Friday, July 26, 2013

Best Books - 2-4 Years

Julia reads a book on her second birthday.

Between the 200 books in the kids’ library at home and monthly visits starting in January to the awesome Mountain View Library, right now I’ve read close to 500 children’s books. Therefore I feel qualified to inform you which ones are worth getting right now and which you should throw into a flaming pile of dog doo doo.

Speaking of dogs:

After putting leashes on the doggies James and Julia read them a book about dogs.
And the Mountain View Library:

I think James is looking into the briefcase from Pulp Fiction.
Also, here are my previous Best Books posts: Books for 15 months and under and Books for 15 months to 2 years.

Top 10 Books

This is my absolute favorite book for kids. (Thanks, Sharon!) The sequels are both good, too, but the original is best. The illustration style is really interesting - drawings of Trixie and her family superimposed on photographs of a Brooklyn neighborhood. And the book is so good that apparently it’s become a musical! (Newer versions of the book include a CD of the musical.) There’s a good reason that the entire section of Mo Willems books is always completely cleaned out of the library. I only ever get any if I’ve put them on hold or happen to see them on the cart to be put back on the shelf.

Here’s a sample page from the book. You can see how the drawings are superimposed on an actual neighborhood.

My kids love this book and it’s excellent for dealing with separation anxiety, especially when they start going to school. All the other books I’ve read so far in the Llama Llama series are great too, especially Llama Llama Time to Share.

The drawings in this book (thanks for the recommendation, Sara) are unusual and beautiful with fine cross-hatched white lines that look etched against a black backgrounds. The book comes with a DVD too. This is another good book for dealing with separation. HOWEVER, I think it’s a little scary though so this is better for kids 3 and up, since the baby owls wake up and Mommy Owl isn’t there. Plus, the line “Maybe a fox got her!” is pretty terrifying - even for a grade schooler. 

This is a great book (thanks, Leslie!), and deals with respecting animals. All of the books in this series are great (Calm Down Time is another good one), and teach without being too teach-y.

The Elephant and Piggie books are all cute (thanks for the recommendation to this series, Lizzie), but this is my favorite so far. It breaks the fourth wall and has the characters address the reader. My kids like to remind me of the time my college friend Bev read this book to her son Alex at our house, and Alex couldn’t help giggling every time Bev read the word “banana.”

I really like this book because it deals with a child getting mad and handling their emotions. My kids really like it too. Despite the subject matter it’s not at all teach-y.

People of all different skin color shades are depicted here, and each is associated with a vivid food description. It makes skin color such a simple concept for kids: we all have skin and some people’s are like chocolate and some are like butterscotch, and others like honey. Of course now my kids will tell me what food people’s skin is like when we’re in public.

I love that the rhyme of this book isn’t in obvious kid book patter (like “da DA da DA da DA”). The rhyme gets changed up and it’s fairly sophisticated. My favorite part is “Goodnight nobody, goodnight mush,”

While at the library I tend to gravitate towards books involving since James loves dogs, and this was a lucky random find. It’s really cute - the dog loves the cat but can only communicate in woofs that the cat can’t understand. How will the cat know how he feels?

This book is a simple ode to the awesomeness of the belly button, starring hippos. Not too many books make you want to smile while you read. The fun the author had in writing it is contagious.

Honorable Mentions
Truthfully choosing the last four on the above list were a tough call. On another day any one of these Honorable Mentions below might have made the Top Ten list instead.

This book illustrates that our eyes, noses, mouths, skin color, bodies, and feelings are both different and the same.

The Napping House (Audrey Wood) (thanks to Tracy for the recommendation)
I know repetitive books are good for kids, but I hate them (the books, not the kids). This is the one exception.

Cookie Monster has the worst business model ever - he hates when people come into his bakery and eat his cookies.

This teacher has to take care of 20 pets left behind for show and tell. Clearly she needs a raise.

Jamberry (Bruce Degen) (thanks to Stacy for the recommendation)
It doesn’t matter that there isn’t much of a plot. It rhymes! And there are berries!

Also good for dealing with separation, this book extends the metaphor to the animal world where animal mommies have to leave for a while but always come back.

Otis and also Otis and the Puppy (Loren Long)
Mark got the twins the original book which is beautifully illustrated and has a lot of heart. I can’t decide if I like the original or the puppy sequel more.

The Big Orange Splot (D. Manus Pinkwater) (thanks to Maria for the recommendation)
The Neigborhood Home Association must hate Mr. Plumbeam.

This is a fun counting book that’s out of print. I’ve included a sample page.

Mark remembers this book as a child so I gifted him with it so he could share it with the kids. Breaking the fourth wall as in this book is such an innovative concept to little ones.

One Dog Canoe (Mary Casanova) (thanks to Beth for the recommendation)
This book has some repetition which is good for kids. But unlike other books it isn’t so brain numbing that I want to kill myself.

Also, although no individual books from this series would make the list,  my kids really like the My First Little House books inspired by the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder (thanks to Beth for the recommendation). It’s a little tricky to explain why people lived in log cabins and didn’t drive cars. I don’t even try explaining why the kids had to stay inside all day and not play on Sunday or why Laura didn’t go into town or enter a store until she was in grade school. My kids particularly love Sugar Snow and County Fair, mostly because both involve food.

And two of the worst books ever:

This book is supposed to be for ages 1-5. It just serves to confuse one-year-olds more than anything else. Good luck explaining lines like “He likes putting his popped balloon into his Useful Pot.” I’m an adult and I have no idea what a Useful Pot is. (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s something from the Winnie the Pooh books but how are the kids supposed to know if it’s not referenced anywhere else in this book?)

Mark particularly loathes any Caillou books, especially Good Night!, and thinks Caillou is a whiny little brat. That’s funny because Caillou really doesn’t whine in the books, and Mark came to this conclusion without ever seeing the TV show. I’ve heard that parents despise it because of Caillou’s epic amounts of whine-i-tude. In Good Night!, Caillou whines (according to Mark) that he wants to play a board game and then is insufferable as he boasts that next time he’ll win.

After visiting the library they can't wait to get to the car to break into one of their books.


  1. Have you read any of Oliver Jeffers's books? Stuck, How to Catch A Star, Lost and Found, and The Way Back Home are all awesome books that the kids and I both love. He's got an American publisher now so we are no longer dependant on the kindness of English friends to get his books.

  2. Thanks for this list Kathleen! I've been looking for some good book recommendations and love your descriptions and your candor. :)

    So great to see you last week!

  3. Oh my goodness! My kids love the Mo Willems books and we have seen the musical - they love to sing the songs when I crank the CD. :) In fact, they love it so much we've worn out our copy.