The lil boss reads: Books for an active toddler Part 1

As I type, the lil boss is running a high fever and Minion 2 has left for Washington DC again, and I am back at trying to be an adult and not gnash my teeth at being left to be the responsible (as opposed to ‘fun’) parent.

I did warn Minion 2 that his taking a posting overseas instantaneously granted me rights to emotional blackmail for the rest of our lives. Though for all my jibes, I do not envy his position much for missing out on some really entertaining times with the lil boss.

Except when he tells me that he is extending his work trip to Peru and joining his mates to Iceland for fun, joy and laughter just as I deal with a sick kid and glorious puke all over the kid’s bed.

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I just did a mini stocktake of the books the lil boss has at my parents’ place, partly because I need to arrange for new bookshelves to be made since my existing bookshelves are not ideal for kids’ books, but also because I needed to plan new purchases. I reckon it’s as good a time as any to do a review of the hits on the shelves thus far.

This is a new section on this blog that I am trying out: cluster reviews of children books and what worked for a very active toddler thus far. I have a book problem: I love curating a collection and it takes quite a bit of effort and money to grow and prune the shelves. I find lists on parenting and teaching sites useful in researching what to get but I find the lists somewhat repetitive after a while as many return to well worn classics. Not that I don’t like classics – they are classics for a reason after all – but there are new or unknown authors/illustrators out there who also deserve a try. This is first big tranche on books for the threes and below- future posts of this nature will be thematic and much shorter, because I am anal that way.

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The lifesavers

We start with the all time lifesavers. The Napping House was one of the first books I had ever read to the lil boss. It’s a charming story told in the same style as “This is a house that Jack built” about a place where everyone is sleeping. The cadence proved to be remarkably soothing for bedtime reading, and as great as the illustrations were, they were wasted on the boss and me since I found myself reciting this book like a lullaby from memory most of the time. It calms the kid down and often puts him to sleep – for that alone, I’d spend the money a few times over.

Hush Little Polar Bear is a rhyming book about the dream-like adventures a stuffed polar bear goes on when its little owner is asleep. The lil boss picked this one and we read it so often I moved it to my parents’ place to take a break from it. The illustrations were beautiful and engaging enough for him to sit down by himself and “recount’ the story. This is the one book that convinced the lil boss to sit down and read, so, again, money a few times over.

The best investment ever

Campbell’s Busy books series.

These are activity books designed for little hands which have not learnt to be gentle yet. They come with sturdy pages that have tabs for the kids to push, pull and slide. The text is really simple and boils down to a little rhyme, which works well for this attention-deficit audience. There is a lot happening on each page, so I get to play twenty questions with the lil boss even as he plays with the tab for that page. I first bought Busy Airport and Busy Fire Station to prepare him for a flight and a visit to a fire station, and he was so taken with them, he would go to his favourite corner with these books and keep himself entertained for up to half an hour (Busy Airport died from the frequent abuse.) I went up to Book Depository and bought almost the full set immediately. I have not regretted a single cent yet – they buy me so much quiet time!

Giles Andreae and rhyming animals

Giraffes Can’t Dance is part of my massive rhyming books purchase back when the kid was six months old – and tells the story of a gangly giraffe who learnt to brush off bullying and naysayers and find his own style. The lil boss loves the brightly coloured illustrations and the rhythm befitting the theme of the book; I love the message. I eventually bought K Is for Kissing a Cool Kangaroo for a change in the usual alphabet books and Rumble in the Jungle for a first introduction to poetry for the kid. The vibrancy attracts him, the rhyme is pleasing for read alouds.

Other great read-alouds

These bear books are sequels to Bear Snores On (The Bear Books), and tell the adventures of a bumbling bear and his woodland friends. They are again rhyming books, with a single repeated line that is designed to get young children to chime in during a read-aloud session. I love the drama in these and that they use a cast of unusual animals (read enough kids books and suddenly having a badger, a wren and a mole is rather exciting!) I bought a few in this series for reading aloud, but I’d say right now I love them more than he does. He prefers books where the illustrations are busy so that we can converse about what’s happening- these illustrations follow the plot and are not as interactive yet for a 20 month-old. I anticipate that he’ll enjoy them more when he is more verbal at three.


Between the two titles by Linday Craig, we prefer Dancing Feet!. When the lil boss is younger I used to move his feet to the rhythm and pretend that we are dancing to the beat “Tippity, tippity, tiny black feet, who are dancing that tippity beat!” It’s really entertaining on long car rides. Now we try to imitate the way the animals dance, which makes this a fun action book. I wasn’t taken with the collage-illustrations but was rather surprised that the lil boss could identify even the more abstract one (honestly, the bear did not look like one) .

Ten in the Bed is another good one for action and movement – it is a story about stuffed toys being made to fall of the bed. “Roll over, roll over” the book implores. Next time we read this book, I am loading the lil boss’ bed up with all his soft toys and making him act the scene out. It’s similar in concept to Julia Donaldson’s One Ted Falls Out of Bed: A Counting Story– whose illustrations the lil boss prefers, but I personally prefers this one because of the reenactment possibilities.

Rumble Tumble is a rhyming book about a group of animals meeting up and dancing into a kid’s bed. I haven’t tried it with the lil boss yet, so I am not sure what the reception would be.

Gorgeously illustrated books

IMG_0962Face it, some books we only claim we are buying for the kid. These are some really cute titles that I’d gladly buy prints of. Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball is great as an action book – we pretend to be the wombat in this book as it talks about what it likes to do: curl up like a ball, stand still, run very fast. Again, I love the fact that it featured mainly creatures from Down Under – there are only that many books about bears and mice and dogs and cats that one can take.

Families, Families, Families! is an adorable take on the many different types of families that exist. More on this later, but I believe that the sooner we teach kids diversity and acceptance, the more resilient they would be against societal prejudices when they are older. The art is engaging and admittedly the lil boss and I spend more time talking about what animals he was seeing than the type of families now.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear (Child’s Play Library) tells the story in the rare second-person narrative as though the reader is talking to the mouse who is thinking of ways and means to hide his beloved strawberry from a hungry bear. It’s delightful but probably works better with an older child than mine. I’d peg this at 3 years old – for maximum enjoyment.

Such a Little Mouse is a sneaky way of teaching kids the seasons, as we follow the little mouse through his various chores at different times of the year. I am hoarding this book till the lil boss is old enough to appreciate it. It’s hard to talk about the seasons in the tropics but I have yet to find a good book about monsoons.

Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure was my personal favourite from a US shopping spree. One little pig wanted nothing but to relax in his bathtub, but uninvited guests started intruding into his tiny space. I use a bowl and some plastic pigs we have to mimic this story with the lil boss, and he loves it. If you have to own a counting book, make it an entertaining one.

Up and Down (Funny Bunnies) is an exercise of making snarky cute. Mischievous looking bunnies demonstrate the concept of opposites and somehow managed to convey snark. I don’t think the lil boss fully understands what opposites are at all, but we have fun talking about what the bunnies are doing.

Watch this space!

Notice a problem? I do. We have way too many books featuring animals as protagonists! I have noticed the same problem with our bookshelves at home. That’s the reason why the lil boss can name his animals! I am now putting a collection on weather and the skies, and another on building sites with its machines and vehicles in a desperate bid to move away from just a type of books ,so akan datang I guess 🙂

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