Today I’ve got some choices that are just right for sturdy, young listeners. Most can also be handed to young, capable readers.
Vintage and new, books in translation, all brimming with peppy adventures.
Pleasant Fieldmouse, written by Jan Wahl, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
first published in 1964; this edition 1992 by Harper Collins
Created by two masters of children’s literature, these are the happy adventures of Pleasant Fieldmouse and his friends — Mrs. Worry-Wind Hedgehog, Graybeard Tortoise, and Anxious Squirrel among numerous others.
Each of the six short chapters in this slim book contains one episode packed with hair-raising dramas, small vexations, and happy surprises among these forest friends. Great read-aloud for ages 4 and up, or a zesty woodland read for a sturdy new reader.
Tow-Truck Pluck, written by Annie M.G. Schmidt, illustrated by Fiep Westendorp
originally published in Dutch in 1971; this English edition 2016 by Pushkin Children’s Books
I’m always on the look-out for gems imported to the U.S. and here is one, a set of stories written by a woman regarded as the “Queen of Dutch Children’s Literature,” who won the 1989 Hans Christian Andersen Award for her lifetime of work in children’s lit. It’s also illustrated by a beloved Dutch artist.
The hefty storybook contains dozens of episodic chapters about a robust and independent fella named Pluck. He’s a bit of a Pippi Longstocking sort — devoid of parents, living quite handily on his own, tooling around in his spiffy tow truck and lending a hand to all manner of folks in his community, both animal and human.
Adventurous, humorous, brave, topsy-turvy — my children would have loved the Pluck stories when they were young. Westendorp’s quirky and colorful illustrations add copious flair to the pages. It took me a few chapters to fall in love with this one so give it a sufficient go. Great read-aloud choice for seasoned listeners ages 4 – 7.
Fabio, the World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: The Case of the Missing Hippo, written by Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
first published in Great Britain in 2018; first U.S. edition 2019 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Many of you have encountered Laura James’ peppy Pug stories beginning with Captain Pug: The Dog who Sailed the Seas. She definitely knows how to spin a tale for beginning readers!
This is the first in another series about Fabio, a clever detective who happens to be a flamingo, and his sidekick Gilbert, a giraffe. This opener sees them stopping by the Hotel Royale for “a cool glass of pink lemonade,” where they are drawn into 1) judging a raucous talent show and 2) solving the mystery of Julia, a singing hippo who has suddenly disappeared. It’s a more difficult read than Captain Pug with a boatload of characters to keep track of and a sophisticated vocabulary. Heavily and jauntily illustrated with occasional neon pink pages which rev things up a bit more! Ages 6 and up.
Wild Honey from the Moon, written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel
published in 2019 by Candlewick Press
Lush colors and charming illustrations gather us in immediately as we sink into this slim but sophisticated fantasy.
In a surprising move for a children’s book, the entire action of the plot involves a mother. A mother shrew, to be exact. Her little son is sick and the remedy is “one teaspoon of wild honey from the moon.” Nothing can stand in the way of a mama on a mission, not hungry owls, not solar system distances, not a swarm of belligerent bees. In the end, it’s the sisterhood of mothers that wins the day.
Challenging vocabulary deepens this comforting, fanciful story while its rich artwork makes every page a jewel box. Read it to children ages 5 and up; it’s one that mamas will enjoy just as much as the children.
Zanzibar, written and illustrated by Catharina Valckx
originally published in France; English edition 2019 by Gecko Press
Zanzibar the crow is happy enough surrounded by his forest friends, whipping up the occasional gourmet mushroom omelet, until Achille LeBlab, journalist from the local paper, starts nosing around looking for folks who have accomplished something Extraordinary.
Suddenly Zanzibar feels compelled to achieve the Nearly Impossible. His choice of feats is surprising to say the least! Head out with the affable Zanzibar on an utterly optimistic journey where happy endings are best enjoyed surrounded by friends. And omelets.
It’s a quirky, warm-hearted read-aloud for ages 4 and up, or hand it to sturdy young readers.