It's birthday shopping time, and you have the opportunity of selecting the perfect picture book for your child. You could head straight for the Disney books or get the latest mass marketed, movie themed picture book, but why go for the mediocre when you can get something truly terrific? Here are a few ideas with suggested books that will help you in selecting the perfect picture book for your child.
Things children like in their books:
Onomatopoeic words - words that sound like what they mean. The airplane went zoom-zoom. Books like Click, Clack, Moo and Giggle, Giggle, Quack are full of these 'sound' words.
Repetition - repeated phrases or words, or a repeated event. Repetition in stories creates a rhythm that children are quick to notice. In Bye Bye Baby, the baby says in turn to a cat, a teddy, a windup hen and an old uncle, "I am a little baby with no mommy. Will you be my mommy?" These lines coupled with the repeated phrase "So then the baby set off down the road ---Bye-bye baby!" will on repeated readings soon have your child saying "Bye-bye baby" right along with the story.
Stories about things that interest them. Boys often like books about trucks, while girls will like books about princesses. Katy and the Big Snow is a book boys will especially enjoy. "Katy was a beautiful red crawler tractor. She was very big and very strong and she could do a lot of things." The fairy tale Twelve Dancing Princesses has been beautifully illustrated by a number of artists. My favorite is illustrated by Ruth Sanderson.
Stories about the lives of other children. When I Was Young in the Mountains is an example of a story about growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.
Stories about things that are familiar to them. Goodnight Moon, a long time favorite of children, is a story about bedtime.
Wonderful illustrations. Illustrators have different styles, but a good illustrator always matches the illustrations to the story. The illustrations in Toad are all done in mucky looking colors, which is perfect for this book. Illustrator Ruth Sanderson creates gorgeous, lush illustrations for her fairy tale books, Papa Gatto and Twelve Dancing Princesses.
Interactive stories. Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a fine example of an interactive book. As the caterpillar eats his way through week, he also eats his way through the book. Children can stick their finger in the hole the caterpillar makes in each page.
Stories about animals. From the Berenstain Bears to Clifford the Big Red Dog and the mouse in If you Give a Mouse a Cookie, there are a number of books so popular that they became entire series. Children identify with the trials and tribulations of these animal characters. They also enjoy stories about real life animals such as In November by Cynthia Rylant.
Just the right amount of text. The text should not outstrip the illustrations in a picture book. Too much text and young minds tend to wander. Young children are very concrete in their thinking, so they need the illustrations to act as a hook for keeping involved in the words of the story. Wordless books like Peter Spier's Noah's Ark or Eric Rohmann's Time Flies demonstrate that illustrations are sometimes all that is needed.
Books that take a whimsical perspective on life. In Jamberry the adventures of boy and bear through strawberry fields and canoeing down blueberry falls will delight most children. Snowmen at Night is a recently published book that imagines what snowmen would do at night if they came to life. Another new book, Micawber, is the tale of a squirrel with a strong desire to paint and how he goes about getting the supplies for his artistic career.
Books that have a satisfying ending. Generally a satisfying ending would be a happy ending, but even books that deal with sad topics can be satisfying. At the end of David Macaulay's book Angelo, one of the two main characters dies. Of course this is sad, but the last page of the story focuses not on sadness but on how love continues on even after a good friend dies.