a list of…five joyful books to share with *toddlers (*and up)

All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee

Building sandcastles on the beach; climbing a  grandaddy-sized tree; munching  hot biscuits on a rainy day; gathering with cousins, aunts, and uncles to enjoy fiddle music and new babies; starlight; corn on the cob; blue sky; cozy fires…

This book is a celebration of the beauty in the world.  And… it’s a beautiful book in itself, so alluring I couldn’t resist it from the first glimpse of the cover!

It’s a quiet-ish celebration.  Although the text is in rhyme, the rhythms and sounds don’t bounce; they just patter along nicely.  The phrases bend in directions not obvious or worn out, and stand up well to repeated readings and musings.

Marla Frazee’s superb illustrations are gentle, inviting us to linger rather than inciting us to rush.  Vast expanses of sky and ocean, details of puppies and babies, vintage VW vans  and charming farmers’ markets, all wash across the pages in tranquil, friendly, colored pencil and watercolor wonder.  Simply gorgeous.  How does she do it?

In its nice, large format, this book offers a warmly-human,  satisfying chance to wonder and delight in the loveliness around us.

Good Days Bad Days, written and illustrated by Catherine Anholt

Life is filled with all sorts of days:  good and bad, sunny and rainy, dull and exciting.

Catherine Anholt’s jolly book is a bit like a catalog of days.  Each page is labeled, and illustrated with one or more applicable scenes.  “Play days” for instance, shows us a merry playground with adorable children busy at all kinds of fun — ring a’ rosie,  jump rope, bouncing, swinging, tumbling among the leaves.  “Work days” has Mommy at her desk illustrating, with a couple small hangers-on, Daddy up a ladder painting, sister managing a very large broom quite importantly.

This is such a simple book, but so brilliant.  For one thing, the illustrations are as charming as can be.  For another, Anholt has chosen categories which every child can relate to.  This is a subject they know; they can nod their sage heads over the scenes she has selected, or disagree, or offer more examples of what school days or holidays look like in their sphere.

My children loved formats like this.  It’s great fun to pour over the illustrations together, noticing details, and lovely, too,  to chat together about their own ideas.  Catherine Anholt, and her husband Laurence, have created several similar books, which are worth searching for.

Treasure Hunt, by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Gillian Tyler

Tilly is a sturdy preschooler with a nice chubby belly and pigtails, who loves hunting for treasure.  Happily, her family accomodates her.  Mornings, Mom hides Tilly’s banana for breakfast and Tilly has to search…in the fridge?  in the biscuit tin? in the clean laundry basket?  Aha!  “My treasure!” cries Tilly when she finds it, and then she eats it up.

Dad hides Tilly’s plush rabbit, Tilly’s cat hides herself, and on birthdays, Tilly’s grandma hides chocolate coins.  Tilly adores hunting for these and other treasures.  Just about bedtime, though, Tilly hides herself.  This time, it’s Mom and Dad who are searching.  Where, oh where can she be?  Finally, “My treasure!” call Mom and Dad as they spot Tilly.  Utterly sweet!

Besides radiating with warm love, this book — one of so, so many by Ahlberg —  is a delight to look at.   Gillian Tyler’s charming watercolors are full of affection, plus all kinds of nice details for us to enjoy.  Children will love trying to spot various items Tilly is looking for, as well as spying other interesting bits and pieces in Tilly’s house and gardens.  Lovely.

In the Forest, story and pictures by Marie Hall Ets

“I had a new horn and a paper hat…And I went for a walk in the forest,” says the small hero of this story.  He is definitely small, and quite alone among the towering trees of the forest, but for all that, he is a nonplussed fellow.

The first creature he meets is a big, wild lion!  The lion wonders where the boy is going, and asks if he can come, too, as long as he combs his mane first.  So, the two of them continue together, on this walk in the forest, where they meet…

two elephant babies bathing and splashing, who towel off and join the parade.  On and on through the forest we go, collecting all sorts of animals until a long column is marching along, each one making his own music to accompany the boy’s horn.  When they reach a clearing, it’s time for a picnic and games.  Such a lovely time is had, until…

…Dad calls.  It’s time to go home.  In just that twinkle of time, all the animals disappear.  Must be hiding.  Perhaps they’ll come another day.

We read this classic tale of imagination many, many times as my kids were growing up.  It is so satisfying.  The boy’s vivid imagination, the simplicity of the story, the accumulating trail of animal friends, the gleeful picnic and games, all are perfectly suited to a young child.  Ets won a Caldecott Honor for her unusual, pleasing,  illustrations, done in black-and-white charcoal.  A Swanson family favorite!

The Nice Book, written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein

Want to be nice?  This book will tell you how to do that.

Cuddle, for instance.  That’s nice.  Nestle.  If you have more than you need, share!  Illustrated with bright, bold, minimalist animals, these instructions are cheerful, matter-of-fact, straightforward, not prissy or preachy.  The sharing page, for example, has a charming warthog, ready to dig into a jolly whipped cream and cherry delight…

…then, enjoying ever so much more sharing the lot with his friend, mouse.

My favorite instructions in the book are:  When you get in a snit, don’t hit — say how you feel.  Excellent advice!

These exuberant, bright pages, with their cool design and friendly animals are just plain fun to look at, and make being nice quite, quite appealing!

Here are Amazon links for all these books, well-suited to lap-sitters:

All the World

Good Days Bad Days (Anholt Family Favourites)

Treasure Hunt

In the Forest

The Nice Book