Kids’ books enchant youngsters and mom, now and likely in future

With each Easter that comes around, my two young boys wake up to baskets filled with sweets, a couple of small toys and inevitably a book or two. At 3 and 4 years old, they have yet to question how the Easter bunny knows which books they’ve been asking for, so I use the opportunity to give them a story worth reading over and over.

In the past few years, some of these little Easter gifts have become perennial favorites, such as “5 Minute Stories: PJ Masks,” https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/apr/10/hidden-gems- kids-books-enchant-youngsters-and-mom / “Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?” and one of the Meomi Octonauts’ tales. Even the Tony Mitton and Ant Parker activity books about tough trucks and roaring rockets were a hit last spring, keeping my preschooler practicing his budding writing and counting skills in an extra fun way back then.

I take any chance I can create some excitement around the unveiling of a new book to keep them curious, interested in reading and to sharpen their big imaginations. Recently we sat down to read these three children’s books together.

“Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Take an Evening Stroll” by Britta Teckentrup has quickly become 3-year-old Elliott’s favorite naptime book. It comes as no surprise that he enjoys it so much, because both he and his older brother were mildly obsessed with another Teckentrup title, “Find the Circle,” which has a unique approach to learning shapes, when was about 21/2.

This particular story follows a hedgehog and its baby through the woods, meadows and flowers as the parent tries to get the little one home to bed – a struggle I’m very familiar with.

I’m so glad the book is as tall as it is, larger than a standard notebook size, so that we can fully appreciate the creative and detailed illustrations. Because of the beautiful pictures, we go through this book methodically, never just reading the words and skating on by. I pause a little at the end of each page so we can take everything in: from the details on the moth wings fluttering by, the pretty glow of the fireflies, the silhouettes of bats, a feather floating down from an owl’s nest, the yellow eyes of the ants and most of all to find the cute ladybug trailing the pair of hedgehogs.

I think my toddler Elliott connects with this book so well because the little hedgehog does exactly what he does; he takes in the world around him as if for the first time. Of all our family, he is the one who notices many things before we do because of these fresh, observant eyes. Reading about another little one who waits for the sun to set, the moon to rise and investigates all the sounds and smells around just resonates with him. I have started reading this book well in advance of naps and bedtime so that we can go through it twice, his new way to prolong getting to sleep.

“All Around Bustletown: Nighttime” by Rotraut Susanne Berner entertains both my boys, but it’s especially good for 4-year-old Henry. We had heard of Bustletown before but had not yet picked up Berner’s other titles that include “All Around Bustletown Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter,” so this was our first experience with the enormous picture board book that has so, so many things to look at and take in.

If you’ve ever handled a Where’s Waldo book, flipped through the pages of a Richard Scarry tale or enjoyed a “My Big Wimmelbook,” you’ll definitely enjoy “All Around Bustletown: Nighttime.” What sets it apart from these other classics is its size: at 131/2 by 10 inches, it’s a behemoth of a kids’ book. It will not fit on their average book shelf, and they have to lay it flat on a table or floor to get a really good look at it, but it rewards them with the rich illustrations and this way, the images aren’t thimblesized.

Being set at night with a cross-section of views indoor and outdoor makes it unique, too. Of all the hundreds of children’s books we own, this is only the third we’ve found that takes place in the dark.

“Bustletown: Nighttime” has no narrative text, only brief descriptions on the back cover, which is kind of like a key to give kids and parents prompts of things to search for. It asks the reader to find a pair of people going for a walk at night, a group of cats meeting up, a dog running off with a hat, etc.

But a couple of the requests are more unique and actually encourage more critical thinking, such as one picture of a man dressed head to toe in black and carrying a backpack and a flashlight. It asks “What is this man up to?” I love the open endedness because I may hear a different answer from each of my kids and either one could be right. To investigate further, we can turn back to the page before or skip to the page after to get more clues, since most of the characters are on each page. I think this kind of activity encourages their sense of storytelling because it teaches them order: first, next, then, and last / finally, and gives us an easy way to think about how they fit together.

What I love about this book as a parent is that I can pull this out at moments when I can not sit down to read to my kids, such as when I’m making breakfast. In the meantime it gives them a stimulating activity, and I hope it gives them a growing realization that they will soon be able to read to themselves.

“Olaf Hajek’s Fantastic Fruits” by Annette Roeder is another enormous volume. At 14 inches tall, this book gives plenty of space to Hajek’s surreal renderings of the usual suspects: apples, bananas and strawberries and other, less appreciated fruits like quince, currant and gooseberry. At nearly 40 pages long and with large swaths of text, I can not get my preschoolers to sit through more than a page at a time (yet!), But I look forward to the day that I do because this book has more than a few things to teach us about fruits.

“Fantastic Fruits” is somewhat encyclopedic, with each set of pages dedicated to only one fruit. One page for text and one page for a small-poster sized illustration of it. Roeder introduces each rather colloquially, but launches into a mix of etymology, history, science and folklore to give readers an all encompassing story of it. I appreciate that it’s put together in an easy-to-read way, and the images that accompany them are fascinating. Is the ladybug under the plum tree a large insect or a small man dressed in ladybug wings?

Hajek’s art plays with perspective through disparaging sizes on the page. Readers see that quality again and again, which keeps the whimsical, fairy tale element close, such as the woman and the fox on the Mandarin, Orange, Lemon and Grapefruit page. You might think she looks normal height, but the fox nearly stands as tall as she, and on further inspection, the orange they’re extracting juice from is nearly half as tall as they are. The rabbit on the Peach and Apricot page is well over double the height of the boy chasing after him, and the tropical bird on the Mango page is far larger than the man and his horse.

I think my boys and I will have many interesting conversations when they are better able to sit through longer tales, since this book will challenge what they think about the foods they think they know.

In the interest of full disclosure, Prestel Publishing sent Wallace’s family these books free of charge in hopes that she would review them. Email her at [email protected]

“Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Take an Evening Stroll” by Britta Teckentrup has become 3-year-old Elliott’s favorite naptime book. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / April Wallace)
photo “Olaf Hajek’s Fantastic Fruits” is a little too advanced for 3- and 4-year-olds, but their mom thinks it will be hugely popular in the future. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / April Wallace)

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