a list of…five classic picture books for the very young

These books are perfect introductions to the magic of snuggling up and listening to a story, as even toddlers can enjoy them.  Very few words, vivid artwork, clever page layout, and a brilliant amount of repetition are all factors in why these books work so well for very young children.

 Please be aware that if you use the miniature versions or the cardboard book versions, you are somewhat missing out. 

 The giant splashes of color in The Very Hungry Caterpillar and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt lose some punch when minimized in the smaller versions; the artwork and layout is best enjoyed at its original size.  The cardboard versions of many books  leave pages out in order to avoid becoming far too thick.  My advice is:  get cardboard books for your babies that are meant as such, and wait on these until your child is capable of looking at a book without eating it!


The Very Hungry Caterpillar, story and pictures by Eric Carle

This is Eric Carle’s iconic picture book of the little caterpillar who eats a piece of fruit here and a piece of fruit there before finally going berserk with all manner of food a baby caterpillar has no business eating – ice cream cones, sausages, pickles and the like – and winding up with a tummy ache.  After he sorts things out with a proper diet of leaves, the now big-and-plump caterpillar spins himself a cocoon and turns into a beautiful butterfly.  And what a spectacular butterfly he is!  Eric Carle’s trademark collages are bursting with color and energy; the page lay-outs are such fun for little fingers to turn; and the little holes nibbled in each plum and slice of cake along the way are a good size for curious fingers, too.  How can a child grow up anymore without knowing this book?


We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, told by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

“We’re going on a bear hunt.  We’re going to catch a big one.  What a beautiful day!  We’re not scared.”  So say the self-assured,  adventurous members of this little crew who splash through rivers, squelch through mud, stumble through forests, and more until they meet up with…a BEAR!  Yikes!!  I can almost feel his breath on my back and his paws grasping at my heels as we race back through the forests and mud and rivers and beat it back home to our safe bed and bury our heads under the billowing quilt.  This story is a heart-thumping, hysterical romp through Helen Oxenbury’s incredible scenes that always reminded me of racing up the basement stairs as a child to escape the clutches of the monsters down there!  So much fun!


Goodnight Moon, story by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Clement Hurd

“In the great green room, there was a telephone…and a red balloon…and a picture of…”  what?   If you’ve read this story, you know very well what the picture was.  This story has mesmerized children for over 60 years.  The calm, happy process of spotting and naming each familiar object in the green room, spying the little mouse who wanders about the pages, and watching the darkness steal over everything, darkening the room, quieting the bunny, causing the moon and stars to glow brightly outside the window, is as warm a memory for many of us as hot cocoa and animal crackers.  My copy of this book is completely unhinged, having been read so, so many times.  Please take your time meandering through this story.  It is meant to be read slowly, taking time to let tiny fingers find and point out each bit, or little voices tell the story themselves after having read it over and over; for voices to grow softer and softer as the bunny drifts off to sleep, and for the quiet old lady to truly whisper, “Hush.”  Makes a great baby shower gift, by the way.  Any of these do!


The Runaway Bunny, story by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by  Clement Hurd

Here’s another lovely story by the same twosome, written back in 1942.  It’s the story of a little bunny who is just itching to run away from home…and his mother who can always find a way to bring that bunny back where he belongs.  Whether she has to become a trout fisherman or a tightrope walker or even the wind itself, she will do what it takes to get to her little bunny.  The book alternates black line drawings and full-color two-page spreads as the two ponder all the various scenarios.  This is a comforting story about unquenchable love, and belonging, and home.   It is not saccharine, however.  It is simply clever and spunky and warm.  The pictures are colorful and imaginative…and some of them require a bit of searching on the part of young readers in order to find that little bunny for themselves.


Dear Zoo, story and pictures by Rod Campbell

This was one of my son’s favorites when he was a toddler.  It’s a lift-the-flap book, which is a super way to engage active little people in the sedentary world of reading.  In this story, the narrator sends away to the zoo for a pet.  Each animal the zoo sends comes in a special, curious crate of some sort, and we get to open the boxes and baskets and see what they sent this time.  Each time, however, there is something slightly problematic about the pet they sent, and it has to be sent back.  Finally, they send just the right thing.  What could it be?  If your family is like ours, you will end up having to tape some of the flaps back together as this book is read umpteen times…but that is what tape is for, right?  Jolly fun.