Books for Babies and Toddlers
Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger & Skye Deiter
The picture books and board books reviewed in this column present an array of topics from animals to tractors. They encourage children to actively participate by lifting flaps, examining intriguing images, and answering posed questions. Babies and toddlers are sure to find some new favorites that they will want to read over and over again with family members and caregivers or in early childhood settings.
Adventure Awaits. Henry Cole. (2022). Little Simon.
A dog and a cat living in the same home awake and embark on separate adventures outside. After surviving separate chases, they reunite under a tree where the sound of an owl sends both of them running. What begins as a fearful flight turns into a friendly race back home to cuddle together for a nap on a shared pillow until another adventure awaits in a surprise twist at the end of the story. The colorful, expressive illustrations and spare text, usually only one word on a page (“sunrise // stretch // adventure // awaits”) of Henry Cole’s inviting board book encourages conversation to interpret unfolding story events and make predictions of what is to come.
Do Baby Elephants Suck Their Trunks?: Amazing Ways Animals Are Just Like Us. Ben Lerwill. Illus. by Katharine McEwen. (2022). Nosy Crow.
How are human babies similar to various baby animals? Each double-page spread of this picture book with vibrant collage artwork features a question such as “How do you stay warm?” or “Do you drink a lot of milk?” addressed to the child reader followed by facts about a baby animal and the care of its family that is similar. Different wild and domestic animals (elephants, polar bears, orangutans, dogs, and six more) and their behaviors are included. And yes, baby elephants sometimes suck their trunks.
Five Hiding Ostriches. Barbara Barbieri McGrath. Illus. by Riley Samels. (2022). Charlesbridge.
Fun Fact: When hiding from predators, ostriches lie down, stretch their necks out, and put their heads down on the ground to disguise themselves as rocks. In this early concept counting book with a patterned rhyming text and full-color digital artwork, five little ostriches run and hide from a lion tracking them. In a surprising turn of events, the ostriches outsmart the lion, who declares, “You birds won hide-and-seek!” The book ends with fun facts about ostriches and a game for children (and adults) to play to mimic the hide-and-seek game that takes place in the book.
Goodnight, Little Sloth (Baby Animal Tales #6). Amanda Wood. Illus. by Vikki Chu. Photos. by Bec Winnel. (2022). Magic Cat.
Little Sloth spends his days swaying gently on a tree branch, munching on leaves, napping, and just looking around to see what he can see. Although some parrots tease him with names like lazybones and slowpoke and tell him that he is missing out on what the rest of the forest has to offer, it is Little Sloth, not the parrots, who witnesses something spectacular from the comfort of his tree. This tale with Bec Winnel’s photographic images of Little Sloth in his green forest home created by Vikki Chu’s watercolor paintings offers a message to all readers, young and old, to slow down and appreciate the beautiful wonders all around them.
Here We Come! Janna Matthies. Illus. by Christine Davenier. (2022). Beach Lane.
“Here we come with a rum-pum-pum. / Wanna come?” In this cumulative picture book story, a young boy embarks on an imaginative moonlit adventure into the woods with his musical pipe and teddy bear. Illustrations washed in soft blue ink introduce animals with instruments and pajama-clad children one-by-one who accept an invitation to join in the parade. All is merry until rain halts the lively march, and everyone huddles under a tree to wait out the last of the “drippy-drips” before returning to their homes. The repetition of rhymes loaded with onomatopoeia and silly words like “swish-swish bum” will have toddlers chiming in as this rhythmic bedtime story is read aloud.
A Kit Story (Animal Stories #2). Kristen Tracy. Illus. by Alison Farrell. (2022). Chronicle.
In this beautifully crafted board book, written as an autobiography of a fox kit, readers learn about a young fox’s behavior and growth during the four seasons. The kit compares herself to other animals throughout the year by describing differences. “It’s springtime. // Lambs gambol all day. / Owls swoop all night. // Not me. // Like a skunk / or a lightning bug, / I slink best / at dusk and dawn.” The little fox’s recounting of childlike behaviors, such as getting scared by a twig snapping and playing with a sibling, helps toddlers develop a connection with the kit, and the use of action verbs and terms like vixen (female fox) or skulk (group of foxes) promotes vocabulary acquisition.
Lion Lullaby. Kate Banks. Illus. by Lauren Tobia. (2022). Candlewick.
As the sun begins to set in the savanna, ten little lions must find their way home in time for bed. “One little lion perched in a tree. / Where is it looking and what does it see? // A monkey is bouncing a babe on its knee. / Oh, little lion, hurry on home.” One at a time, the little lions stop playing to join the journey home until finally, in a heartwarming ending, all ten cubs are huddled together under the evening stars, drifting off into a peaceful sleep with their mothers. With its rhythmic verses and playful illustrations that gradually grow darker and calmer, this bedtime lullaby is sure to sooth even the wildest little ones.
Little Fish’s Ocean (Little Fish). Lucy Cousins. (2022). Candlewick.
Lucy Cousins’ Little Fish returns in a new, interactive ocean adventure in this sturdy lift-the-flaps board book with her signature colorful gouache illustrations of five underwater scenes for readers to explore. They will meet Little Fish’s fishy friends including crabs and mollusks in rock pools, a dolphin and stingray in kelp beds, a squid and an anglerfish in the deep sea, seals and a blue whale in the Antarctic, and “Mommy Fish” in Little Fish’s coral reef home. Descriptive rhymes with welcoming words such as “wave hello” or “dive down deep” engage young children as they learn about different ocean animals and the diversity of their habitats.
My Very First 100 Words. Rosemary Wells. (2022). Paula Wiseman.
With softly colored mixed-media illustrations of the cute animal characters dressed in clothes Rosemary Wells is known for, her latest picture book supports children’s language development by using selected and adapted Mother Goose rhymes to focus on words and phrases. For example, the classic rhyme “I’m Dusty Bill / from Vinegar Hill / Never had a bath / And I never will” is used to introduce words associated with the activity of taking a bath: “dirty,” “wet,” “dry,” “clean,” and “in” and “out” of a tub. The book can be used with babies by pointing to various images during the reading. With repeated readings, Toddlers will begin to identify rhymes and specific words in each of the rhymes. The backside of the dust jacket is a poster with 100 “very first words.”
Odd Birds: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Flock. Laura Gehl. Illus. by Gareth Lucas. (2022). Abrams Appleseed.
In this board book, babies and toddlers are presented with a simple text and colorful portraits of eight “odd birds” and interesting facts about them. For example, the reader learns about the hoatzin that smells like poop. The final double-spread page features photographs of the unusual birds: frigate bird, blue-footed booby, shoebill stork, ostrich, hoatzin, oilbird, California condor, and burrowing owl along with additional information about them. (The hoatzin smells like poop because it takes a long time for its food to be digested, and the odor keeps predators away.) Bird-loving children are sure to enjoy this book.
River (Animal Families #5). Nosy Crow. Illus. by Jane Ormes. (2022). Nosy Crow.
Jane Ormes’s vibrant screen print artwork for this interactive board book showcases four river animal families: duck, otter, dragon fly, and swan. Double-spread pages feature portraits of the “daddies” on the left and the “mommies on the right, identified by name. A lift of the flap on the right reveals their “baby.” The final double spread has a flap on each side to open to show the families and their group name. This square board book with sturdy easy-to-lift flaps fits nicely in tiny hands and encourages children to be actively involved in the reading of the book.
10 Hungry Rabbits (New edition). Anita Lobel. (2022). Paula Wiseman.
When Mama Rabbit reveals she has no ingredients to prepare a soup for her ten hungry rabbits, they agree to pick vegetables from the family’s garden. One by one, each of the rabbits discovers something yummy for Mama’s soup, and with each rabbit’s discovery, readers are introduced to two basic skills: counting and color recognition. As each rabbit visits the garden, a large panel on the page presents the respective number three ways: as the cardinal numeral, in word form, and as a pictorial representation of the vegetable, all in the featured color, while a smaller panel at the bottom of the page reveals the rabbit, in a color-coordinated outfit, picking the food. The text on the page also includes the ordinal number. For example, “The sixth rabbit yanked up SIX ORANGE carrots.” Anita Lobel’s engaging concept picture book was originally published in 2012.
Tractor. Sally Sutton. Illus. by Brian Lovelock. (2022). Candlewick.
A green tractor works hard through the year pulling farm implements doing the seasonal activities on a family farm—plowing, tilling, planting seeds, irrigating, harvesting, and transporting the crop of corn out of the field. Sally Sutton’s patterned, rhythmic verses with chants express each implement’s role (for example, the seed drill plants the seeds and “tips them!” and “flips them!”), and a following question asks the reader to name it. This book will delight children who love all sorts of things that go as they enjoy hearing the story read again and again while poring over Brian Lovelock’s colorful, detailed, colorful pigmented ink illustrations. The final double spread labels the parts of the tractor and identifies the farm implements.
Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger is an assistant professor in the Early, Elementary, and Reading Department at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Skye Deiter is a third-grade classroom teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
What difference can one person make in changing the world? Does it matter how old you are or where you live? The following reviews include biographies of environmentalists who made or are making a difference in the world through their empathy and activism. These books will inspire young readers to take stock of their world and think about what they can do to create a better life for everyone and protect our planet.
Alexander von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist & Environmental Pioneer. Danica Novgorodoff. (2022). Crown.
Growing up in Germany, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a lonely, misunderstood child who loved being outdoors and learning about how all living things are connected. He had many questions and dreams of adventure that had to wait to be answered and experienced until he grew up. As an adult, his dreams come true, and he continued to ask questions while traveling and observing nature around him. Von Humboldt believed that all people are connected through their curiosity about the world and that animals and their habitats—and even volcanos—are connected by unseen communication systems far below the ground. Danica Novgorodoff’s poetic language paints a vivid picture of the places, people, and animals that Alexander observed. The repetition of the phrases “he had so many questions” and “now I see” link the stories of his various travels and discoveries. She works in watercolor and pencil to beautifully depict the explorations of von Humboldt, who appears alone in most of the cartoon-style illustrations clad in a bright red tailcoat that billows behind him as he hurries from one adventure to another. In the end, Alexander realizes that he, too, is connected to the world and is certainly not alone anymore. An author’s note praises Alexander von Humboldt’s work not only as a naturalist but also as a fighter for diversity and equity. He believed and made known that all races are alike in that all human beings belong to the same species. (PreK Up)
Conservation with Jane Goodall (Big Ideas for Little Environmentalists). Maureen McQuerry. Illus. by Robin Rosenthal. (2022). Putnam.
Jane Goodall (b. 1934) has cared about animals, especially chimpanzees, all her life. Jane’s early interests stayed with her into adulthood when she dedicated her career to studying chimpanzees in the wild and educating people about keeping them safe in their natural habitats. (PreK Up)
Ecosystems with Rachel Carson (Big Ideas for Little Environmentalists). Maureen McQuerry. Illus. by Robin Rosenthal. (2022). Putnam.
Rachel Carson (1907-1964), who expressed her curiosity and passion for nature from a young age, devoted her life work to studying and writing books about ecosystems. Silent Spring (1962), her best known book, was an early warning about the harmful effects of pesticides on the planet. Young children will learn about ecosystems and how important it is that we take care of them for future generations. (PreK Up)
Preservation with Aldo Leopold (Big Ideas for Little Environmentalists). Maureen McQuerry. Illus. by Robin Rosenthal. (2022). Putnam.
As a child growing up near the Mississippi River, Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) loved exploring the natural world. He thought that people should leave wilderness areas undeveloped, and as an adult, he became an important figure in wildlife ecology. His idea that people need to have places to go to see what the world was like before human intervention led to preservation areas that we still enjoy today. (PreK Up).
Restoration with Wangari Maathai (Big Ideas for Little Environmentalists). Maureen McQuerry. Illus. by Robin Rosenthal. (2022). Putnam.
Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) lived in Kenya surrounded by mugumo fig trees, but when people began to clear the trees to make way for buildings and other projects, she saw how the absence of trees hurt the land and the people. She dedicated her life to righting the wrongs of deforestation. She encouraged people to join her in planting trees and to begin giving back to the land as much, or more than, they took out. (PreK Up)
These four biographies in the new board book series Big Ideas for Little Environmentalists series are marketed for babies and toddlers, who will be able to handle the pages easily while enjoying the colorful illustrations, but the language suggests that an older audience will be interested, too. Parents and teachers reading the books to young children will need to talk about the meanings of words such as “conservation,” “restoration,” “preservation,” “ecosystems,” “communities,” and “habitat” and explain metaphors such as “When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope.”
Each book begins with the statement “An environmentalist cares for and protects the world around us: the land, water, and air, and the animals and people who live on our planet.” The book’s subject is then introduced, describing how the person was or is an environmentalist. Stylized oil illustrations complement the narrative about their life and big ideas. Each book ends with the question, “What can you do to help nature in your community?” and double-page spreads depicting “little environmentalists” doing things like planting trees and gardens and going on observational hikes.
Greta Thunberg (The First Name series). Tracey Turner. Illus. by Tom Knight. (2022). Abrams.
This middle-grade biography of Greta Thunberg (b. 2003) supports the young Swedish environmental activist’s conviction that it only takes one person, and a young person at that, to bring attention to a problem that threatens all living things. Greta’s environmental activism started with her one-child school strike after she learned about global warming in 2011. For a girl who did not like to bring attention to herself, this was a brave undertaking, but after learning about the atrocities being perpetrated against the natural world by large businesses and governments, she was appalled that no one was doing anything about it. The earth is our home, she thought, so why weren’t people taking care of it? Greta’s courage in speaking out about the climate change crisis has gained her global recognition as a fierce warrior for the environment. The back matter of this informative and inspiring book with black-and-white cartoonlike illustrations includes a timeline, glossary, source notes, bibliography, and index. (Gr 3 Up)
Harriet’s Ruffled Feathers: The Woman Who Saved Millions of Birds. Joy McCullough. Illus. by Romina Galotta. (2022). Atheneum.
Hats with feathers and stuffed birds were all the rage among late 19th century American women with a “passion for fashion,” who went to great lengths to outdo each other with ever more elaborate plumes on top of their heads. When Boston socialite Harriet Lawrence Hemenway (1858-1960) found out that millions of birds were being slaughtered every year for their feathers, she was angry. How could she and her society friends overcome this “great big ostrich of a problem?” While she had to rely on her husband’s considerable wealth and social status, it was Harriet and her friends who eventually saved the day. Joy McCullough’s creative use of wordplay and alliteration is matched by Romina Galotta’s signature watercolor illustrations to bring attention to a formerly frivolous fashion statement that led Hemenway to cofound the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The women’s persistence in getting laws to protect birds codified eventually led to the establishment of the National Audubon Society and the preservation of birds in sanctuaries. The back matter includes resources and ideas on how to be a conservationist (and how to make your own pretend binoculars). (PreK Up)
She Heard the Birds: The Story of Florence Merriam Bailey, Pioneering Nature Activist. Andrea D’Aquino. (2022). Princeton Architectural.
Florence Merriam Bailey (1863-1947) was a contemporary of Harriet Lawrence Hemenway of the ruffled feathers. She, too, hated the use of feathers on ladies’ hats when she saw them on her first trip to a big city. Florence observed birds in their natural habitats and learned to identify them by their calls and song. She wrote books to let other people know about the wonders of birds, including one of the first field guides to birds. It was Florence’s mission to heed the call to protect birds from being killed for fashion and for scientific study. Her idea to use binoculars, cameras, notebooks, and her ears to study birds was taken up by others, leading people to hear Florence’s call as well as that of birds. The story of how Florence Merriam Bailey became the first woman fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1929 is related in the back matter along with resources for learning more about birdwatching and bird rescue. Andrea D’Aquino’s hand-painted paper collages with oil pastels and pencil provide both realistic and fanciful pictures of birds and their habitats. (PreK Up)
We Have a Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Color Protecting the Planet. Mya-Rose Craig. Illus. by Sabrena Khadija. 2022. Magic Cat.
Mya-Rose Craig (b. 2002), who is also known as Birdgirl, published a column on birds in her local newspaper at the age of 12. During the COVID-19 lockdown, she interviewed 30 young people from different countries who share a vision for change and believe that world leaders who could take drastic measures to protect people from disease during the pandemic should be able to do the same to protect the planet. On the right-hand pages of We Have a Dream, Sabrena Khadija’s digitally created illustrations, done in bold colors, provide a portrait of each person. The left-hand pages provide profiles of the activists that include several paragraphs of detailed information on their life and contributions; an inset with their year of birth, ethnicity, and a brief statement on their activism; a quote; and a banner highlighting their dream. Their specific dreams address changes in government policies, shaping future sustainability, indigenous visibility and inclusion, an education system focused on the climate crisis, and biodiversity conservation. Resources and ideas for activism are on the back page. (Gr 3 Up)
Sue Corbin teaches literacy and children’s literature courses at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio. She serves on the International Literacy Association’s Board of Directors as well as on the board of the Children’s Literature and Reading SIG. She also just planted a maple tree in her back yard and takes care of the many kinds of plants and animals who share her land.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).