It's not always easy to pick a winner when it comes to childrens books. Some are just plain boring, others are inane. And then there are some that I think will be great, but they don't hold Nia's interest at all. Other times, it turns out she's not mature enough. Two such titles in the latter category: Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid and Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit. Both started out really well with lots of enthusiasm from Nia and myself (both were finely written and a pleasure to read aloud). But before long, with tears in her eyes, Nia said, "I'm not old enough for this book yet."
In The Little Mermaid, it was because of the wicked witch who grants the little mermaid's wish for legs -- the price for those legs was pain each time she walked, death if the prince didn't love her in return, and also the witch took her voice. The loss of the little mermaid's voice was the most upsetting to Nia.
In The Velveteen Rabbit, the part that disturbed her was the notion that stuffed animals can be loved so much that they become shabby and their whiskers may fall off and their button eyes may loose their shine and their bodies may loose their shape. This made her really cry. Oops! Ok, we'll come back to those.
So, here's what we are reading successfully. It's not all cancer books around here anymore, though it's still a mix of picture books and (age-appropriate) novels. We do the picture books during the day, but at night I prefer the chapter books with fewer pictures (I find that pictures are stimulating and, let's be honest, part of the idea of bedtime reading is to lull them to sleep, right?).
So for bedtime, we've been reading the Poppy series by Avi. Pam stared the series with Nia by reading Poppy and Ragweed. Then I read Poppy & Rye and Ereth's Birthday. Now we are in the midst of Poppy Returns, with one more book to go, Poppy & Ereth. Although Ragweed is technically the start of the series, it was recommended to us to start with Poppy and to lightly edit the second page (in which the character Ragweed is killed by the story's villian, an owl named Mr. Ocax). I like the series because Poppy the mouse is a wonderfully clever and creative heroine who is always helping others out of scrapes, first as a teenage mouse and later as a mother, and the stories gently bring up issues of friendship, family, death, & survival.
They are illustrated very well, but the illustrations are not on every page, so Nia can lay back and listen and begin the creative process of picturing the story in her head (or drifting off to sleep!). (Though I should add, I do understand it is an important pre-reading skill to be able to link the words to the pictures, too.)
We recently read another short-novel series of books that begins with Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins. This one is about a collection of toys and their adventures when the people of the house are away. The toys -- a stuffed buffalo, a stuffed sting ray and a rubber ball -- grapple with issues of friendship, problem-solving, loyalty, making new friends, and overcoming fears. Like the Poppy books, this series is lightly illustrated with only one or two pictures per chapter.
A few months ago, Nia started asking lots of questions about how babies were made and where they grow and how they are born. After fumbling our way through some pretty awkward explainations, Joe brought home this book from the libary:
It's Not the Stork is a well-done book, touching on all the topics Nia was asking about without too much information that might scare her. But the authors also don't shy away from the anatomy and the book does talk very simply about "a special kind of loving called sex."
I like that the book mentions that some babies are born at home with a midwife, and it talks about both bottle-feeding and breastfeeding.
Other books we're enjoying include the Little House series that is designed for preschoolers and young readers, My First Little House Books, adapted from Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. Beautiful, simple, feel-good stories of 2 little girls and their infant sister growing up long ago, first in the Big Woods and later on the Prairie. I love the full-page illustrations in these books.
And we are also enjoying several versions of the Stone Soup folktale. I think this one is Joe's favorite; he and Nia have read it each night this week:
PS. After I wrote this post, Joe came home from the library with two more stone soup books! He's on to something with this stone soup repetition. The kindergarten teacher Steve Spitalny once told me at a workshop that you know a book or story has struck a chord when the child starts acting out the story in their play. He tells the same story to his kindergartners each day for weeks at a time! This week, Nia's been making stone soup in her kitchen.