One might think that, with a title like "4 books all children should have on their shelves," this post is going to be full of classic tales of the power of perseverence, like "The Little Engine That Could;" or heartworming reminders of the power of parental love, like "Love You Forever." And while those books should be on every child's shelf, that's not what this post is about.
Nope, this is about the books that should be on the shelf because they are books that are fun for parents to read.
Selfish? Maybe. Useful? Youbetcha!
So, if you're the parent of an infant, toddler or preschooler — or if you're looking for amazing baby shower gift ideas — check out these can't-miss titles.
Important note: These are books my wife and I bought and paid for (or received as gifts from awesome friends). These weren't provided as free review copies, I wasn't asked by the publishers to review them and, frankly, they certainly don't know and probably don't care that I'm mentioning the books here.
Right, on with the list!
"The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Loveable, Furry Old Grover" by Jon Stone (1971)
Let's kick this off with a classic, shall we? This bad boy is older than me and was on my shelf when I was a kid. The link above takes you to its Wikipedia entry (which contains spoilers, if having the plot twist to a 40-year-old children's book bothers you) which describes the book as "post modern" for its direct interaction with the reader. I had no idea I appreciated post-modernity as a youth but there you go.
Anyway, it's that interaction with the reader that makes this book so awesome. Grover is terrified of the monster at the end of the book so he begs, pleads and erects brick walls in an attempt to keep you from reaching the end. Your kid will have a blast foiling Grover's attempts to stop you from turning pages — particularly if you play along and act like his efforts to tie the pages together really do impede your reading.
But a quick word of warning: make sure you're buying the original. The crafty bastards behind this beloved tale tried to ride a wave of parental nostalgia and capitalize on the lust for everything Elmo at the same time by releasing "Another Monster at the End of This Book" in the late 1990s. It's a blatant rip off and it lacks the charm of the original, simply parachuting Elmo into the narratve on the assumption that, like bacon, Elmo makes everything better.
ELMO IS NOT BACON. STOP MESSING WITH THE CLASSICS.
Ok. Where were we?
RIght. On to the second must-have book.
Continuing my apparent love of "post modern" kids' books, "We Are In A Book" is the 13th installment of the amazingly well conceived Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems. In this story, the piggie (Piggie) and elephant (Gerald) suddenly become aware that they are the stars of the story and they take great delight in making the reader say silly words — namely, "banana." To this day, my kid will laugh hysterically if you just look her in the eye and say, deadpan, "banana."
It's my favourite in the series but, really, this entire franchise is charming and hilarious. The two characters have a wonderfully strong friendship and if you're into things like "lessons" and "morals" in your kid's books, these books have them in spades. If, like me, you're more into absurdity, Sorkin-esque dialogue pacing and the occasional bit of slapstick humour, these books deliver there too.
Quick word of warning, though. Without giving too much away, there's a gag at the end of "We Are In a Book" that calls upon the reader to read the story again. If your child is empathetic this could send you into an endless spiral of repeat reading. Luckily my kid seems to take a sadistic delight in denying the request to read it again.
"Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great" by Bob Shea (2013)
Any book that features the brilliant line/potential catchphrase "taste my cloven justice!" is bound to be amazing. This one doesn't disappoint. I'm a big fan of stories that don't pander or talk down to kids and this one fits the bill. The author's website (linked above) promises "books for really smart kids" and it's a pretty apt description. This one is just as interesting and entertaining to me as it is to my kid.
In a nuthsell, the goat is cynical and somewhat despondent; clearly upset that the new unicorn in the neighbourhood is upstaging him at every turn. It's classic children's book fodder, thematically — the goat is jealous of the unicorn but the unicorn proves to be just as jealous of the goat and the two become fast friends, embracing their differences. But the presentation and character style is anything but traditional.
"But Not The Hippopotamus" by Sandra Boynton (1982)
Admittedly, picking your favourite Sandra Boynton book is like choosing your favourite flavour of ice cream. With more than 50 titles to her name and a 30+ year publishing career, Sandra Boynton is basically R.L. Stein (except instead of teenlit horror fiction she writes absurd stories about partying hippos, misanthropic chickens and adventurous piglets. In fact, if you don't already have one of her fun little board books on your shelf I'd be surprised.
So why choose this book in particular? It's funny and surprising, sure, but so are "Fifteen Animals," "Happy Hippo, Angry Duck" and dozens of other Boynton offerings.
Well, I have a theory that you can learn a lot about your partner by listening to them read this book. Without giving away too much, the story centres around a number of animals pairing off and heading out on all sorts of adventures and activities, leaving the hippo behind. Animal x and animal y partake in some michevious fun, "but not the hippopotamus." When I read this book, I adopted a solemn, sad voice for that oft-repeated line. Poor hippo, I thought. Just wants to be part of the fun.
Then I heard my wife read it.
"But not the hippopotamus," she repeated, seemingly taking delight in the hippo's pain.
"But not the hippopotamus!"
"But not the hippopotamus!"
"But not the hippopotamus!"
"GOOD LORD, AMY! WHAT DID THE POOR HIPPO EVER DO TO YOU?"
Sheesh. You think you know someone.
So there you have it, friends. Four books that your kid may or may not enjoy but you certainly will. I guarantee it.*
Are you more of a fan of stories that aren't committed to paper? You might enjoy the Adventures of Harold and Harriet. Or hey, just turn on the television instead, we won't judge. We'll even help there too.
*Not a guarantee