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.
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These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).