a list of…five favorites for the preschool crowd

Here are five books from our shelves whose dog-eared, finger-smudged, well-loved appearances hint at how many, many times they’ve been read.  All of these are perfect for the restless, please-can-I-turn-the-page-now gang, with not too many words on a page, charming illustrations, and simple plots without way-too-much tension (read: scary things happening!)

Sam Who Never Forgets, stories and pictures by Eve Rice

Sam is a friendly zookeeper who faithfully feeds his animals every day when the zoo clock strikes three.  Dressed in his spiffy blue uniform and canary-yellow tie, Sam pulls his wagon, loaded down with assorted bins and pots, from cage to cage doling out fresh green leaves, yummy bananas, fish, berries and oats to the eagerly awaiting animals.  The animals love Sam because “Sam never forgets.”  But.  What?  Oh dear!  Poor elephant has been missed on Sam’s food rounds!  Did Sam really, truly forget?!  Or…is there another explanation? 

This is a sweet story, hinging on the faithful Sam, who never, never, never forgets.  Very comforting.  The pictures are simple, jolly, bright, and full of what children love best —  balloons and monkeys, popcorn stands and happy kids. 

Good Dog, Carl, an almost wordless book, by Alexandra Day

There are a number of  books starring Carl, the huge, gentle, savvy Rottweiler, but this is the first.

Carl is left in charge of the baby for a bit while Mom steps out.  As she leaves, it seems to be a rather sleepy household:  baby in crib, faithful dog lying on floor.  Peaceful scene.  As soon as Mom’s safely away, however, the rumpus begins!  Carl helps the baby out of the crib and soon that baby is bouncing on the bed, playing dress-up, sliding down the laundry chute, taking a swim in the aquarium, eating a very messy snack — just in general having a jolly good time.  Carl is an efficient babysitter, giving piggy back rides when necessary, cleaning up spills, and tucking that baby back in her crib just in the nick of time.  When Mom comes home, all looks just as she left it, so she cradles that beautiful doggy head in her lap and praises him for his watchfulnes.  “Good dog, Carl!” 

The pictures tell the story in this book, and they are such fun to look at.  Lots of mischief.  Lots of uh-ohs.  And throughout, that black-and-caramel, noble, bear-of-a-dog named Carl taking care of every detail.  What’s not to love?

Some Things Go Together, poem by Charlotte Zolotow, pictures by Karen Gundersheimer

Some things just go together, right?  Like peanut butter and jelly.  Bert and Ernie.  Apple pie and ice-cream.

This book is a sweet poem about things that go together:  Peace with dove, Home with love, Gardens with flowers, Clocks with hours, Moths with screen, Grass with green, Leaves with tree, and you with me.  Each verse of the poem (there are four) winds up with the mommy and her little boy being that most important pairing that goes together. 

Karen Gundersheimer’s pictures are sort of the definition of charming.  Miniature scenes, brimming with love and happiness, and sprinkled with dogs and balloons,  toy trains and princess gowns, campfires and sandy beaches fill up this small-format book.   Charlotte Zolotow’s poem is full of clever pairings, but most of all, full of the love and comfort of knowing that “you and me” will always go together.

Ask Mr. Bear, story and pictures by Marjorie Flack 

The age-old question of what to get for Mom’s birthday is the subject of this book.  4-year-old Danny is stumped.  So he sets out to see what he can figure out and soon meets Mrs. Hen.  Danny asks if she’s got anything he could have, to give to his mom for her birthday, but when Mrs. Hen offers an egg, Danny thinks his mom already has that.  “Let’s see what we can find then,” says the Hen.  So the two of them skip off.  Soon they meet Mrs. Goose.  Mrs. Goose offers feathers for a pillow, but, alas, Danny’s mom already has a pillow, too.  Now it’s Danny and the hen and the goose all hopping along, looking for a better idea.  And so the story goes.  One after another the animals offer a gift, but it’s not until Danny asks Mr. Bear that he finds just the right thing.

The pictures in this book, published in 1932, are bright, clear, glad, and even carry a bit of that retro feel to them.  The cumulative nature of the story is perfect for this age group.  Repeated phrases, a growing list of the animals to name as the group gets bigger and bigger, anticipation of what animal is going to be found next, the animal sounds for each one, and then the surprising conclusion with Mr. Bear, all add up to lots of participation in the reading and a completely satisfying ending. 

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing, story and pictures by John Burningham

Mr. Gumpy owned a boat and his house was by a river.  One day Mr. Gumpy went out in his boat.  “May we come with you?” said the children.  “Yes,” said Mr. Gumpy, “if you don’t squabble.” 

Mr. Gumpy is quite an agreeable fellow.  He says yes to all who ask for a ride in his boat:  children, rabbit, cat, dog, pig, sheep, chickens, calf, goat…with a minor caveat for each one — don’t squabble; don’t muck about; don’t tease the cat; and so on.  For awhile, this boatful of animals and people moves along happily, but then…Oh, you just know there’s going to be trouble, don’t you?!  Happily, Mr. Gumpy is a very even-tempered and generous fellow, too, and we wind up with cherry cake and tea by the end of the story.  Which is very nice.

John Burningham is a prolific and much-awarded British author/illustrator, married to the fabulous Helen Oxenbury.  He has a very recognizable style.  Comfortable yet highly artistic.  I love his work.  There is a second Mr. Gumpy tale, about a jaunt in his motor car, which is equally delightful.