Today I'll give some recommendations of books Elaine enjoys. It's harder for her to sit still (mostly her personality more than her age, since Lucy would sit and read for hours at 2 1/2). Last night though, we got home and Darren and Lucy weren't here, so we got some quality reading time together.
This is a book by Kristine Franklin, illustrated by Kris Waldherr, that I found through my work. Unfortunately, it's out of print, but you can purchase a used copy (I did). It is nothing less than a treasure. Each illustration is a miniature work of art. It is set in Russia and is the story of a little boy named Pavel, son of a milkman, who finds a lost wolfhound wandering out in the snow and gives her shelter and food in their barn. His father finds the dog and says that only the Tsar keeps wolfhounds, and if it is found that they have this dog, they'll go to prison or worse--get rid of her. Pavel finds a way to both obey his father and save the dog, meeting Tsar Nicholas himself in the process. The end of the book is a lovely surprise. The text is lyrical and interesting and matches the illustrations in beauty. The other day my mom took the girls on a walk, and Elaine came home shouting, "We saw a wolfhound, a wolfhound!" Now every time we go outside, she is certain that we'll see a wolfhound. I love this book so much I want to buy a wolfhound.
Next are the photographic fantasy books by husband and wife team, Carl Sams and Jean Stoick. If you love nature or photography or animals you'll love these. Even if you don't, you'll probably learn to! Elaine owns this one, "Lost in the Woods," and Lucy has "Stranger in the Woods." They just wrote a new one called, "First Snow in the Woods." These books are great ways to show children the beauty of nature, plus the stories the go along with them are fun too. An additional bonus is that the first two have been made into short films. (We own one and check another out of the library.) We had one of the DVDs on to entertain the girls while a group of adults were over, and most of the adults ending up watching because it was so enjoyable. Sams and Stoick also have a cool photography website you can Google.
Thirdly, I recommend any and all books by Bernard Waber (and that is not a paid endorsement from my employer either!) He wrote the Lyle the Crocodile books, which have been favorites of Lucy for several years. She asked my dad to read her the first one, called "The House on East 88th Street," and when he was done he told me, "That was really funny!" To me, a mark of a great kid's book is if I'm enjoying it too. Elaine got "A Lion Named Shirley Williamson" for her birthday this year. It's the story of a bereaved zookeeper named Seymour (whose late wife's name was Shirley) and his friendship with a lion in the zoo who was accidentally named Shirley Williamson. She loves being named Shirley, but the other lions think she should have a name like they do (their names are Goobah, Poobah, and Arubah). Eventually the zoo renames Shirley "Bongo" and fires Seymour. Shirley mourns that the zoo has taken everything from her, "including my good name," but she hunts down Seymour, and things are eventually resolved.
I could go on for a reeeeaaaallly long time about the picture books we love around here. I previously mentioned Cynthia Rylant's books. We of course love Curious George (another non-paid endorsement!) We have a complete set of Beatrix Potter, which we read often. Our favorites are "The Tale of Tom Kitten," and "The Tale of Two Bad Mice."
However, I'll just show one more--our "closer" for most evenings: "Animal Orchestra." It's a little Golden book you could probably pick up for $3.99, but it has probably gotten more reading than any other book in our collection. All the text is written as a poem (which we all know by heart). I'm not sure when exactly it was published, but I think it's pretty old so the illustrations are very retro-cute. It's great to teach children all the different orchestra instruments (and quite a few that you usually don't see in an orchestra!), but the girls' favorite is the conductor, who is a hippo (and wears a tuxedo), because they love to shout the ending lines, "The Hippo was happy on Musical Day because everyone shouted, 'Hip-hippo-ray!'" The text is sing-songy, the colors are bright, and it is perfect for any music-loving toddler *cough*Caleb*cough. :-)
These are just a few of Elaine's favorites. I heard a few years ago that Madonna thought there weren't any good children's books out there, so she decided to write some. Not only did she come up with an inferior product, she is woefully misinformed and ignorant about the children's book world. There are wonderful classics and excellent new material amidst the mediocre and the junky stuff out there. Even if you don't have kids, these are good to own and fun to read (in fact, I bought Darren "Stranger in the Woods" long before Lucy was born, for the cool photographs). Also, these are great ideas for baby shower/birthday/Christmas gifts for any of the kids in your life.