Warning: This is a "mommy post", so if you're not interested in books for very young kids, or don't have any kids in your life that you're interested in reading to, you may want to skip it.My good friend Pauline (pronounced Pawleen in New Jersey, where she lives, haha!) wrote to ask me for recommendations for children's books. She's a reader like me, and her son Dylan is about the same age as my Sage--three-ish--so we have a shared interest in finding good books for very short people with even shorter attention spans.
This can be challenging because there are many books out there that are supposed to be for children, but are either way too long and involved, or just, you know, stupid, clearly published by persons out to make a buck who don't actually know or like children. Also, you want to find books that the person who's reading them can actually stand, since kids tend to demand that their favorites be read over and over again.
Pauline's other parameters were: (1) no Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, Sandra Boynton, or Thomas the Tank, as she and Dylan have exhausted those already; and (2) nothing overtly "girly", Dylan being a boy. So if you don't find those in this list, that's why.
3-Minute Stories, published by PI Kids, my number-one resource for quick reading sessions. There are several variations: 3-Minute Fairy Tales, 3-Minute Adventure Stories, 3-Minute Bible Stories (if that's your thing), etc. You can get in two or three stories at a time; it's illustrated on nearly every page; and there's a neat lenticular clock thingie on the cover that Sage finds fascinating. The fairy tale one has stories ranging from 'King Midas' to 'The Wild Swans' to the more common 'Cinderella' and 'Sleeping Beauty' tales. It's made in China, though, so I don't know if Pauline will be able to get her hands on it.
the early-stage Dora the Explorer books. Not especially girly, since they're generally adventuresome, and I don't know any kid who doesn't like Dora. There are all sorts of Dora books, but the ones I'm talking about have "reader levels" indicated on the front cover. The neat thing is that the text is interspersed with little picture icons, so that kids learn to associate words with items they stand for. Sage likes these because she gets to "help" do the reading.
selected Dr. Seuss books. You have to be careful with the good doctor, as some of his books are too long or actually more geared for adults. I haven't gotten Sage to sit all the way through The Cat in the Hat yet, but we always have fun with Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The whimsical nonsense and clever use of rhyme are what appear to enrapture Sage, and usually there's some kind of useful lesson cleverly embedded in the story. (I sometimes use Green Eggs and Ham to make her try unfamiliar foods, for example.)
Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This is the all-time champion bedtime story. It's not actually a story in the formal sense--more like an illustrated poem about objects in a child's bedroom--but it's so short it's painless for the reader, yet just long enough that a drowsy child should be out like a light by the end. Read in a suitably hushed cadence for best results.
Wolves in the Wall by Neil Gaiman. I actually thought Sage was too young for this one, until I saw her listening raptly as her Uncle Andrew read it to her. I think it's the juxtaposition of everyday family reality with sheer weirdness. I've yet to try other children's books by Gaiman, though I'm sure Coraline is much too long.
activity books by Priddy-Bricknell. This publisher makes great board books with all those extras kids love: touch-and-feel pictures, peekaboo panels, and so on. They're not exactly stories, either, but it's fun to guide your kid through the activities, especially since they use fresh, unexpected representations for letters and concepts (e.g., 'd' is for 'duckling' rather than 'dog'). The Learn to Write your Letters and Learn to Write your Numbers books have been particularly useful in teaching Sage to identify and write her ABCs and 123s. They have connect-the-dot numbers and letters that kids can trace, and the books are made from whiteboard-like material so you can wipe them off and use them over and over again.
Pantheon Books has some very nice compilations of fairy tales from different cultures, from The Complete Grimm's to Russian and Chinese collections. Obviously, these will be too long and too "lit'ry" for a small child, but what you can do is read a couple of stories on your own, then paraphrase 'em into child-sized portions. Same goes for more unorthodox sources like the really excellent Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales.
You can also use myths as resource material--World Mythology by Donna Rosenberg offers a satisfyingly global mix--but it can get pretty complicated trying to explain the difference between "God" and "gods", so use your discretion. (And by the way, no folklore/myth bookshelf can be considered complete without Aleksandr Afanasev's Russian Fairy Tales or Edith Hamilton's Mythology, which I consider highly superior to the Bullfinch.)
Make it up as you go along. If you're a writer, like Pauline is and I am, feel free to create your own stories--hey, Lewis Carroll did it, and look how well that turned out! Seriously, though, you don't need to come up with Alice or anything; my big secret is, if you use the child's name for the protagonist of the story, he/she will be hooked. You can make up fanciful tales about how his/her birthmark is actually a kiss from a good fairy, or it can be something as simple as how Mom and Dad brought home a favorite teddy bear. Throw in the names of their friends, grandparents, people and places they love, and they'll love it.
Do it impromptu, or you can actually type it up, print it, and make it into his/her own special book for the two of you to illustrate or whatever. The other way you can do this is to sit down and have a painting/drawing session, then make up a story about the pictures you've made. Sage and I ended up with a nice fable about 'The Moon Lady' this way.
This has inspired me to take a page from Gigi. So send me any questions currently burning in your minds; and if I know the answers or can look them up, I'll post 'em here on the blog. Just drop a line in the tagboard or comments section, and I'll see what I can do.