Top 5: Bedtime Books for Toddlers

At bedtime the little ones are always restless and one way to calm everyone down is a real bedtime book… a book about bedtime, and sleep, and yawning, and… oh, pardon me, I nodded off there for a moment.

Here are five rather excellent and beautiful bedtime stories that you may not know about. (Note: No Goodnight Moon on this list – everyone knows about that one already!) Click on titles for full reviews.

1. Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes – infant+

Simple and funny. Kitten thinks the moon is a bowl of milk.

2. Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell – age 2+

All about getting settled for sleep, starring a very patient parent.

3. The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed by Helen Cooper – age 2+

Baby wants to keep playing but his toys are sleepy.

4. One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth – age 3+

Very funny. All the animals in the park are looking for a warm place to sleep, so they descend on the park-keeper’s little house.

5. The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson – age 3+

Dreamy and gorgeous. A girl imagines she is flying over the countryside at night, all the way to the planets and stars.

And, what the heck, here’s a bonus, one I haven’t reviewed on this blog but that we’ve read and listened to countless times:

Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book by Dr. Seuss – age 2+

A chronicle of all manner of creatures going to bed – yawners, sleepwalkers, sleeptalkers, snorers and dreamers. It’s a little long, but brilliant in its pacing, gradually slowing and mellowing until the final “Good night.” We have a fantastic CD version of it which we’d listen to while following along in the book. The narration, music and fx are terrific and the sound of all those yawns will definitely get you and your toddler yawning too. (Here’s the link to the CD on amazon.)



Top 5: Pre- Harry Potter Reads

As I wrote yesterday, Harry Potter books (and movies) can be pretty scary and intense for younger children. If your child is intrigued by magic and fantasy, but you’re not certain she or he is quite ready for Hogwarts, here are a few fantasy titles they may be more comfortable with.

(Click on the titles to see full reviews.)

Top 5: Beginner Fantasy Chapter Books


1. The Cuckoo Clock by Mrs. Molesworth – age 5+

A very sedate and old-fashioned (1877) story about a girl who visits some magical places and learns to behave herself a little better.

2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – age 5+

Quite different from the movie – a rambling, weird tale with a few scares and dustups along the way. (NB. some violence: see full review.)

3. Half Magic by Edward Eager – age 5+

One of my childhood favourites. This and other titles by Eager are lovely stories about children who come across something magic and mess things up a little. Slightly old-fashioned but charming and full of insight about sibling relations.

4. The Book of Dragons by E. Nesbit – age 6+

Snappy and very funny short stories, each about a very unique dragon.

5. The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit – age 6+

Nesbit books like The Enchanted Castle and Five Children and It inspired Edward Eager’s work, and are similarly about children who acquire some kind of magic and mismanage it with amusing or chilling results. This title in particular has one very creepy sequence.

And Two bonus titles… Rather long and wordy, only for the most hardy listeners (and readers).

6. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – age 6+

Find an abridged version if you can. (But NOT a Disney version!) The plot is captivating, but the original novel is a very dense read, and tangled with tangents.

7. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald – age 6+

Goblins living under a mountain plot to kidnap a Princess, but she is aided by the ghost of her great-great-great grandmother and a courageous miner boy. Another very old classic, creepy and intriguing, but a trifle loooong and slow to get going. (Not sure if there are any abridged versions out there.)

As you can tell, my tastes go to the older, classic novels. I must start reading some newer books!

If you have any suggestions for early fantasy books, new or old, please share them!

My Favourite Lesser-Known Caldecott Winners

Following up with my finalized Caldecott Medal reviews, here is a short list of my favourites among them that are not so well known. (ie. Where the Wild Things Are and the like aren’t listed because everyone knows them!)

Listed by age:


Kitten’s First Full Moon – Kevin Henkes

Little Kitten sees her very first full moon in the sky and thinks it’s a bowl of milk. After many unsuccessful attempts to reach it, tired, wet and hungry, Kitten returns to her porch to find a bowl of milk waiting for her. Lucky Kitten!

                 2 year olds

The Little House – Virginia Lee Burton

A happy little country house is slowly engulfed by the expanding city limits and she does not like it one bit. After many years she is moved back to the countryside, and lived in and cared for again.

Drummer Hoff – Barbara Emberley; Ed Emberley, ill.

A brief, repetitive poem in which various military personnel bring and assemble a cannon, though the most lowly, Drummer Hoff, gets to “fire it off”. When he does so the final page shows that the gun blew itself up, and now birds and bugs make their home in it, as the grass and flowers grow over top.

The Hello, Goodbye Window – Norton Juster; Chris Raschka, ill.

A child’s retelling of what happens when she stays with her grandparents while her parents are at work. She talks lovingly about her Nanna and Poppy, their house, their activities, their jokes and games.

                    3 year olds

Mei Li – Thomas Handforth

A day in the life of a small Chinese girl who tags along with her big brother to the New Year’s Fair in the big city and attempts at every turn to prove that she is brave and useful.

Many Moons – James Thurber; Louis Slobodkin, ill.

The princess is ill and claims she will only get well again if someone can give her the moon. The king and his wise men ponder the problem to no avail. Only the jester knows how to solve the problem: by consulting with the princess herself, who turns out to have all the answers.

Tuesday – David Wiesner

One Tuesday evening, at precisely 7:58 pm a group of bullfrogs suddenly find themselves able to fly, and proceed to have a grand old time. When the sun rises their flight ends and, extremely disgruntled, they must hop home again.

          4 year olds

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship – Arthur Ransome; Uri Shulevitz, ill.

A foolish youngest son sets out to win the hand of a princess. Through his kindness he makes a few very useful friends, builds a flying ship, and successfully fulfills the Tsar’s impossible tasks to win his bride.

Arrow to the Sun – Gerald McDermott

A boy raised by a single mother sets out in search of his father, who turns out to be the lord of the sun. A wise man turns the boy into an arrow and shoots him to the sun. After several trials the boy is accepted by his father and given great powers.

Ox-Cart Man – Donald Hall; Barbara Cooney, ill.

The story of a family in the pioneer past who work all year in order to sell their wares in the Portsmouth market.

          5 year olds

Abraham Lincoln – Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

A very approachable biography of Abraham Lincoln, focussing on his childhood and youth. The details of pioneer life, farm work, and hard times are simply stated and fascinating.

Sam, Bangs & Moonshine – Evaline Ness

A little girl’s wild imagination and tendency to tell tall tales cause a little friend to be caught out in a wild storm. Her father and talking cat urge her to learn the difference between the truth and ‘moonshine’.

The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot – Alice & Martin Provensen

The true story of Louis Blériot (1872-1936), who invented and built flying machines in the early days of aviation, and was the first man to fly across the English Channel.

Snowflake Bentley – Jacqueline Briggs Martin; Mary Azarian, ill.

A biography of W. A. Bentley, born in 1865, who invented a way to take photographs of snowflakes. Considered an eccentric for much of his life, Bentley’s photographs eventually came into great demand and his book Snow Crystals is still considered a seminal work on the subject.

6 years and older

Fables – Arnold Lobel

A series of original fables, written in the style of the old Aesop stories, each only one page long and followed by a simple moral. Updated tales are accessible, touching, and brilliantly illustrated.

Top 5: Poetry for Preschoolers

Last week’s list was Poetry for the Very Young, the baby-to-2 crowd, and now we move up to 3 and beyond.

1. When We Were Very Young / Now We Are Six, by A.A. Milne – age: 3+

Published in 1924 and 1927, these two collections successfully walk the tightrope between sentimentality and humour. The danger in nostalgic poetry about childhood for children is that it ends up appealing more to grownups with their own fond memories of a simpler time. The Milne poems are charming for grownups, but the playful energy will still hook children, every very young ones. You can pick and choose as you go (some poems are very long); I was reading these with my daughter when she was three and she had favourites she’d ask for again and again. Now that she’s five I may pull these books out once more… (Available combined into one volume, at

2. Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy, by Michael Rosen, ill. by Quentin Blake – age: 4+

This is a combination of two earlier books, Don’t Put Mustard in the Custard, and You Can’t Catch Me,  which came out in 1985 and 1981 respectively. Rosen’s work is less structured and more conversational, made up of tidbits of children’s speech and a smattering of nonsense. His introduction to this edition is written for children aged 7 or 8, and encourages them to perform the poems out loud and take a stab at writing poems themselves. Rosen has written many books of poetry for children and was appointed the British Children’s Laureate in 2007. (This title available at

3. Alligator Pie, by Dennis Lee – age: 4+

Even more raucous fun. This Canadian classic from 1974 sets the bar high for sheer audacity and infectious nonsense. The title poem must (yes, I say must) be taught to your child and memorized so that the both of you can recite it together at the top of your lungs.

4. Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein – age: 5+

Another much-loved collection, this was also published in 1974 (a banner year for children’s poetry!). This one is perfect for slightly older children, with poems like “I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor” and others with less than cheery endings. Still, it retains a light touch and is pretty hilarious. (This one is my 5-yr-old’s current favourite.)

(This title available at

5. The New Kid on the Block, by Jack Prelutsky – age: 6+

There are many collections by this prolific poet, this one came out in 1984. Slightly sharper-edged humour, more sarcasm, more complex jokes, and a more advanced vocabulary. Of the “Homework! Oh homework! I hate you! You stink!” school of playground humour, this collection is both tougher (“Suzanna Socked Me Sunday”) and grosser (“Jellyfish Stew”) than the others on this list. Still, quite funny and enjoyable.

(This title available at

I had originally intended to include in this list the classic A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1885), which is very important historically as a first serious attempt to write poetry from a child’s point of view and in a child’s voice, but it proved to be fairly unreadable cover-to-cover, child-wise. A little too sentimental and nostalgic. And it doesn’t have enough humour to really grab the imagination of a modern reader. It’s possible that a child with more literary tastes might enjoy it – or perhaps RLS’s poems are better encountered individually within anthologies.

Holiday Movie List link

Here’s a link to’s list of holiday films, ranked by age.

I haven’t seen all of them, but it looks like a pretty good list…

Top 5: Books about Snow

Dang. I know I promised the Part 2 Poetry List: 3 and up this week (Poetry for the under-3s here), but I’m still reading and picking books for that one. However, I was inspired by the little bit of snow we had this week to create a list of books celebrating the cold white stuff, all sides of it – from recreation to fantasy to science. (I’ve written on each of these books more fully – click on the title to read the full review.)

1. The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats – age 2+

A small boy explores a snowy world. (Available at

2. The Story of the Snow Children, by Sibylle von Olfers – age 2+

High fantasy – a girl goes to visit the Snow Queen in her ice castle. (Available at

3. White Snow Bright Snow, by Alvin Tresselt/Roger Duvoisin – age 3+

Snow comes to town and everyone reacts to it in their own way… some shovel, some play. (Available at

4. The Big Snow, by Berta and Elmer Hader – age 3+

Animals and birds adopt many strategies to survive the winter. (Available at

5. Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin – age 5+

True story about the man who invented a way to photograph snowflakes. (Available at

Top 5: Poetry for the Very Young

Poetry is a perfect way to introduce your child to the sheer pleasure of words, playing with rhythm, rhyme, humour and imagination. Even a baby will enjoy the musical qualities of poems read aloud, even if they don’t quite understand their meaning.

Of course a great many picture books are written in rhyme – Each Peach Pear Plum, the Madeline books, Drummer Hoff, Mister Magnolia, and the entire works of Dr. Seuss for example! Here are some poetry collections and classics to begin with, suitable for infants on up. (Click on links for full reviews.)   Coming soon: poems for preschoolers (3 to 6).

1. The Mother Goose Treasury, ill. by Raymond Briggs (Hamish Hamilton, 1966) – Ages: infant +

There are many, many collections out there to choose from. This one is particularly comprehensive (and a Greenaway Medal Winner). A nice big book of nursery rhymes is also a perfect baby shower gift!  (Available at

2. The Rooster Crows: A Book of American Rhymes and Jingles, Maude and Miska Petersham (Simon & Schuster, 1945) – Ages: infant +

Another collection of old folk rhymes, including such classics as “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a Bear”. The kind of rhymes you don’t remember anyone teaching you… you just feel like you’ve always known them. (Available at

3. All Join In, Quentin Blake (Jonathon Cape, 1990) – Ages: 2 +

Rollicking rhymes that invite everyone to “all join in!” Poetry at its most accessible: loud, raucous and fun!

4. The Owl and the Pussycat / The Quangle Wangle’s Hat, Edward Lear – Ages: 2 +

Lear’s classics of nonsense and word-invention (runcible spoon?) successfully stand the test of time. The Owl and the Pussycat is especially lovely and romantic. (NB. Lear’s limericks are rather more problemmatic, fairly violent and dark, but these two poems are blissfully serene.)  (Owl on amazon; Quangle on amazon.)

5. A Visit from St. Nicholas, aka ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – Clement Clarke Moore (1823) – Ages: 2+

Don’t forget this seasonal classic, available in many, many editions. (Here’s one on

Check out my follow-up list – Top 5: Poetry for Preschoolers (3-6).

Top 5: Books for Beginning Readers

There are many graded readers out there and an awful lot of them are just dire. Dull dull dull, and often ineptly illustrated as well. If you have a struggling or otherwise reluctant reader, it is worth your while to search out the most entertaining offerings you can. Here are a few gems we have found and enjoyed.

(P.S. There is no shame in beginning with a phonics book set featuring a favourite TV or other pop culture character. In our case it was Hello Kitty.)

1. Hop on Pop, by Dr. Seuss

This is reading made painless, and funny to boot. There’s no story, just a series of situations with the words presented, followed by simple sentences using them. Ie. “ALL TALL, We all are tall.” and on the next page, “ALL SMALL, We all are small.”

The Dr. Seuss easy readers are still the best out there, for sheer simplicity and entertainment value. From this title move on to One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and other titles under the Cat in the Hat banner, like Go Dog Go, Are You My Mother? etc.

2. Cat Traps, by Molly Coxe (Random House Step Into Reading series, step 1)

This is one of the dime-a-dozen kind of graded readers, but this title is actually quite funny and contains just the right amount of repetition and age-perfect jokes to warrant repeated readings. My nephew read this to my daughter years ago, and this summer she was finally able to read it back to him – giggles all round.

3. Elephant and Piggie series, by Mo Willems

These books are very simple, extremely engaging and hilarious. All about the relationship between two very good and very different friends. Misunderstandings lead to over-reactions but friendship triumphs in the end.

From the author who brought you Knuffle Bunny, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and many other books. This series has 15 titles, including Today I Will Fly!, My Friend is Sad, I Am Invited to a Party!, I Will Surprise My Friend!, and my personal favourite, I Am Going!

4. Buzz Boy and Fly Guy, by Tedd Arnold

Cute cartoon book about a boy and his pet fly. In this one they imagine they are superheroes and have a pirate adventure. Action-packed without recourse to meanness or violence! There are 10 titles in the Fly Guy series, including Hi Fly Guy, Shoo Fly Guy, and Fly Guy vs. the Flyswatter.

5. Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot series, by Dav Pilkey, ill. by Martin Oliveros

A little more advanced, but extremely engaging. A little mouse has a giant robot for a pal, which comes in handy whenever the world needs saving. In each book devious alien creatures invade and Ricky and his robot battle them. Some action, pummelling and karate kicking and so forth, but nothing too extreme. Pilkey more famously brought us Captain Underpants, but this series is thankfully free of the potty humour and insults of those books.

Highlights include fight scenes in “flip-o-rama”, where you flip one page back and forth to see a scene animate. Also for the artistically inclined there are detailed instructions on how to draw the characters at the end of every book! (Love this!) Another recommendation from a nephew (thanks Sam!) that is very popular in our house.

Other titles include Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Jurassic Jackrabbits from Jupiter, Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Voodoo Vultures from Venus, etc.

Top 5: Picks for Hallowe’en

Here are a few of my picks for the season. For the young and timid, there are many picture books about children trick or treating, which might be a safer way to start than with books about ghouls. Also good are books with adorable, loveable witches, ghosts, etc. Also, books are never as scary as movies, so you might want to veer away from Hallowe’en videos if your child is particularly skittish.

Some of these choices are Hallowe’eny in spirit, if not in specifics…


1. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak – Ages 3+

This one is good because the boy Max is the scariest monster of all, and rules the beasts as king… until he gets tired of it. (This title on amazon.)

2. Ramona the Pest (Hallowe’en chapter), by Beverly Cleary – Ages 5+

A chapter book, but you can read just the Hallowe’en chapter if you like. Ramona is determined to be the scariest witch in the kindergarten parade. (This title on amazon.)

3. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum – Ages 5+

Not strictly a Hallowe’en book, but full of witches and sundry scary beasts. (This title on amazon.)

4. The Witches, by Roald Dahl – Ages 6+

Getting a little older and a little braver here… a young boy and his grandma foil an entire witch convention. Pretty creepy – be sure to read the review. (This title on amazon.)

5. The Canterville Ghost, by Oscar Wilde – Ages 7+ (mostly for comprehension)

You can ‘class up’ Christmas by turning to Dickens, why not do the same with Oscar Wilde at Hallowe’en? A very funny story about a hapless ghost who finds the new family in his ancestral home is scarier than he is. (This title on amazon.)


1. Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005) – Ages 3+ (according to Commonsense Media)

It ain’t great movie-making, being another Disney blot besmirching the true Pooh (a topic for another day!), but this is a fairly benign cartoon for very young viewers. Be aware though, that there is a pretty scary ‘Tree of Terror’. Roo and Lumpy, the youngest characters, overcome their fears to face the tree, which of course isn’t haunted after all.  For the very timid however, the tree may still be too scary… it might be best to wait until they’re older before you hit the Hallowe’en flicks! (This title on amazon.)

2. Meet Me in St. Louis (1945) – Hallowe’en scene – Ages 4+

The Hallowe’en sequence in this old musical is terrific. Be sure to read my review for the full description. A little girl screws up her courage to do something daring on Hallowe’en night and impresses all the big kids. (This title on amazon.)

3. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) – Ages 5+

A classic that we all love, and it isn’t at all scary, but be aware that it may fall flat for younger kids. My four-year-old didn’t like it at all because a) Lucy is mean, b) Sally misses trick or treating and c) yells a lot at Linus, and most of all, d) Charlie Brown gets rocks instead of candy!! (At what age does this injustice suddenly become funny? It probably varies from viewer to viewer.) In addition there’s a lot of bewildering sarcasm, insults, name-calling, etc. The Snoopy stuff she did like, but again, WWI references aren’t all that engaging for preschoolers. Moral dilemmas and the retention of optimism in an uncaring universe plays better to older viewers I guess. (This title via Instant Video on amazon.)

4. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) – Ages 5+

The 2nd half of this movie is perfect for Hallowe’en, retelling the classic story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. Great buildup and suspense, and the slapstick action mitigates the terror of the chase somewhat. (This title on amazon.)

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Ages 7+

For the older viewers… It’s a Christmas movie, kind of, but really more of a Hallowe’en spooker. Visually stunning and chock-full of creepy but loveable characters. The main villain is pretty terrifying and gross, though, so be sure your audience really likes their ghouls and ghosties. (This title on amazon.)

Top 5: Old Comedy Clips

Oh boy do I have a treat for you today! Sometimes it takes a little digging around, but there’s a wealth of great stuff on youtube to share with your kids. I’ve discovered some classic old movie moments from the comedy masters for you. If you’re wondering about how to introduce your children to the look and the style of silent movies and early talkies, short clips are fantastic.


1. Charlie Chaplin – “Dance of the Dinner Rolls” from The Gold Rush (1925)

Sweet and simple. Entry level viewing for the brilliance that is Chaplin.


2. Marx Bros. – Mirror Scene from Duck Soup (1933)

This has been copied a thousand times since, and it’s likely even Groucho and company were borrowing this routine from someone else, in the old vaudeville tradition, but nobody does it better.


3. Buster Keaton – Chase Scene from Seven Chances (1925)

Ah, there was a time when people did their own stunts! Buster Keaton never ceases to astonish me.


4. Laurel & Hardy – Pie Fight

I’ve never been a huge fan of the pie-in-the-face gag myself, but this is a pretty epic example of the genre. And it all starts with a banana peel!


5. Abbott and Costello – “Who’s On First?” from The Naughty Nineties (1945)

And finally, something a little more ‘talkie’… This routine delighted my 5-year-old and my 9-year-old nephew this summer. The writing, the delivery, the timing… perfection.

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