I volunteer in a local pre-school five days a week. This is a little different from my regular classroom observations because I don’t have to be as professional. Instead of standing and teaching, I get time to help the kids with their projects and entertain them during free time. Personally, I don’t think that there is anything better than sitting in a big cushy bean bag chair and reading with my munchkins. These kids are 3, 4, and 5 years old, respectively. Since they’re so young, I think it’s an important time to promote a love of reading. With the literacy issues I’ve seen in older elementary grades, it is truly a blessing to see this little girls and boys sitting down, looking eagerly at pictures and explaining what they think it going on in the story in exciting and certain voices . There are a lot of great children’s books out there. Some of them have wonderful messages, and those are often the most important for kids to read. In hopes that you’ll find it useful, I’m going to share some of my favorite read-aloud and shared reading books. These aren’t in any particular order.
Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry! By Samantha Berger, Illustrated by Bruce Whatley.
I purchased this book from Scholastic for almost nothing. The story is about a little otter named Martha. Martha isn’t bad, but sometimes she hurts people and doesn’t say she’s sorry. The kids are going on an incentive trip this month, and I plan to reread this to them and remind them that they should stay out of trouble and say they’re sorry when they hurt their friends’ feelings. The book is short and the illustrations, although beautiful, are not too busy to be distracting to little eyes. It’s a great read-aloud for 4 and 5 year olds. The story is very relatable. Who hasn’t knocked down a pal’s block tower or pushed in line? It’s a great thing to read and discuss.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. By Laura Joffe Numeroff, Illustrated by Felicia Bond.
This is another cute book for the little ones. It would be fine to read aloud to younger children, but may be too repetitive for older kids. The book follows the possible outcome of giving a mouse a cookie, as the title implies. It’s a very cute book in which a little boy is run ragged by a very energetic little rodent who needs a lot of things, including milk AND cookies. I picked up the whole series from Scholastic. They also offer a CD version so growing children can read along with the books.
Dinosaur Starts School. By Pamela Duncan Edwards. Illustrated by Deborah Allwright.
I picked this book because it is one of the most-requested books in the class. I remember specifically reading it three days in a row to the same little girl, and on other occasions to other children. It’s a cute little book about a dinosaur who is going to school with his human friend. The story starts, “What would you do if on the very first day of school Dinosaur wasn’t smiling his big, toothy dinosaur smile? You’d say, ‘Don’t worry, Dinosaur. School will be fun”” Dinosaur goes through the whole day worried about everything, but by the end of the day, he has made new friends and decides that school isn’t so bad after all. It’s a great read-aloud for little ones who are nervous about starting pre-school, Head Start, kindergarten or even day care.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar. By Eric Carle.
I love the way these books are made! I would recommend them for ages 7 and under. The Hungry Caterpillar has been around for a while, but it hasn’t lost its playfulness yet. The book is about a caterpillar who eats and eats and eats after hatching from a tiny egg. He munches things like ice cream and salami until he gets a tummy ache. He munches on a leaf and feels better, and then turns into a beautiful butterfly. The illustrations are fun, and there are holes punched in pages to simulate places where the caterpillar has munched. This is also a very “teachable book.” At the preschool I work at, it was used to study the letter C as in caterpillar, the days of the week and counting (illustrated by yet another clever page manipulation,) and in addition to other things, a very simplified version of a butterfly’s life cycle. Even after the kids were finished reading the book for class, it was made available and many of them took advantage of it. There is a class set of fabric and Velcro characters that go along with the story. These can be attached to a piece of felt. Now and then one of the kids would pull out the felt story board and stick on the pieces as I read the story. Since it’s such a simple story, many of the children remember the order that the characters go in and tell the story to me while I turned the pages and “checked” them. The only hard part for them was remembering all the people food that the little caterpillar ingested!
The Cow That Laid an Egg. By Andy Cutbill. Illustrated by Russell Ayto.
It may not be a classic, but this book always elicits a few giggles. The story is about Marjorie, a moo cow. Surrounded by other talented cows, Marjorie doesn’t feel like she’s good at anything. Her friends, some sly chickens, devise a plan to make Marjorie feel special. The crazy illustrations are bright and exciting. When I read it with the munchkins, I always let them read the “special page.” (Not to spoil the story, but in the end, a little chick goes, “MOOOOO!”) A few of them have it down pat and they love turning the page and shouting out like cows. This book has a little more content than the other pre-k books I’ve listed, so it might be alright to read together at an older age (maybe seven or eight.)
Goodnight Moon. By Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Clement Hurd.
This cute story follows a little guy (a rabbit) who doesn’t want to sleep. Instead he travels around and says goodnight to everything in his room. This is a precious book. It’s very calm and is a perfect bedtime or naptime story. It’s a story that could be read to any little one, baby, toddler, or young child. I love this book. I remember it from my childhood, but I still think it’s a great addition to the bookshelf.
Owl Babies. By Martin Waddell. Illustrated by Patrick Benson.
This is another hit at preschool (I think they just like baby animals saying funny things!) It’s a book about three little baby owls (owlets) who are waiting for their mommy to come home. The owlets are Sarah, Percy, and baby Bill. Baby Bill spends most of the book crying, “I want my Mommy!” He is too cute, and the kids love him. Of course, the story has a happy ending, and after a long hunt, momma owl comes home to her waiting children. It’s a feel good book for sure. I think this book is recommended for ages 4 and up. The story is nice, especially since children are at an age where they’ll likely be away from Mom and Dad for the first time, due to school and whatnot. That being said, a lot of people have commented on their toddlers being frightened by the book. I’ve never had a problem with four and five year olds. The pictures are gorgeous, but dark and maybe too busy for little eyes to appreciate.
Two Bad Ants. By Chris Van Allsburg.
Two Bad Ants is a story about two little insects who decide they’re going to sneak off and eat sugar instead of working. They’re fun turns to bad times when they get scooped up and dumped in the morning coffee. We read this book as a big group (during our study of the letter A!) The kids had fun guess what was happening to the ants, as the story was very vague, (coffee was a bitter liquid and sugar was a beautiful sparkling crystal.) There are a few words that I think points the book to an older grade. I think it would be a great read aloud for eight or nine year olds.
There Was an Old Lady (Who Swallowed a Fly.) By Simms Taback.
This is a funny, albeit unrealistic story. In the book, there is an old lady. She swallows a fly. No one knows why. Then she gobbles up various other animals in an attempt to catch the fly. The story is very repetitive. On every page, a new animal is introduced and the author goes back through all the previous lines.
“There was an old lady who swallowed a cat.
Imagine that, she swallowed a cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird.
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
that wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps she’ll die.”
The tale goes on like this for a while. Just for the record, she dies in the end. It’s not a brutal death. Just, “She died, of course.” The story is very lyrical and I think it would be fun for kids to hear, even if they don’t really understand the story yet (probably seven and under). It’s extremely sing-songy and after hearing it a few times, a few of my little ones had it memorized.
The Jolly Postman: or Other People’s Letters. By Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
This is one that didn’t come from Pre-k, but I really have to share. I actually heard about this book in one of my Education classes and then found it on eBay for around $4. It is too cute! The book itself is nice, but the real charm are the little letters. Throughout the book, there are a few letters in different formats. These are all addressed to familiar fairy tale characters. Some are children’s letters with errors, another is an advertisement. These could very easily be used as a teaching tool (How do we write a business letter? Where are the mistakes?) I would recommend this book for an older child, possibly one who is learning about letter writing in school or independently. It would be really fun to sit with your child, let them pull out the letters, open the envelopes, and study the contained letters.
Please note, this book does mention the postman sipping champagne at Cinderella’s, just in case anyone has an aversion to alcohol. It is an older book, but I still think it’s a great piece to read with your child.
There are a LOT of really great books to read to little ones, and reading together can help create a bond that parent and child will cherish for a long time. These are just a few books that I love and that I’ve read with my “kids.” I hope you have fun making a wonderful book list of your own.