Saturday, November 27, 2010

City-centric toddler books and other good kid reads

Nearly a year ago, I came across this useful post by a local mom about good city-centric books for toddlers. They provide a nice contrast to the typical farm and country life themes that seem to dominate a lot of kids books, and which I realized are only relevant for us when we take Ava and Dylan to fairs, petting zoos and harvest festivals around the region.

Although I spent my first couple years and many summers on my grandmother's farm in rural Louisiana and enjoy the open space, fresh food and other benefits of country living, I've grown up in a major metropolitan area and love it here.

The article is linked below and I pulled out summaries of the books mentioned, plus a few others mentioned by parents in reviews as good toddler reads. I’ll be checking the library and now Barnes and Noble NOOKkids online bookstore for them soon.

We’ve pretty much run through the many books in Ava’s library and are searching for new, more “mature” additions. To liven things up last summer, we started leaving off the last word in rhyming favorites like Goodnight Moon so that Ava could fill in the blank or elaborate.

Natasha: “Goodnight comb. And goodnight brush. Goodnight nobody. Goodnight…”
Ava: “Mush! Like oatmeal. I loooove oatmeal.”

Now she's memorized favorites like most of the Ezra Jack Keats books and the Paperback Princess (my personal favorite) and she "reads" them to us, word for word. It's still amazing to me, but not surprising I guess after I read this Wisconsin Council on Children and Families PDF that found:

...advances in neuroscience have helped crystallize earlier findings, bringing new clarity and understanding to the field of early childhood brain development. Children are born ready to learn. They cultivate 85 percent of their intellect, personality and skills by age five. The first months and years of life set the stage for lifelong development...
Research shows that the richness of a young child’s verbal interactions has a dramatic effect on vocabulary and school readiness, with differences correlated to socio-economic status. A watershed study on the topic found that by age 3, the observed cumulative vocabulary for children in professional families was 1,116 words; for working class families it was about 740, and for welfare families 525.
Fascinating. And no parental pressure, right? ;-) But it just reinforces the approach I gravitated to with Ava and Dylan from the start: I talk to them using big words and concepts, even if they don't understand them now. It introduces them to new words, and in some cases, provides an opportunity to explain more advanced concepts in kid-friendly language.

Which is why Ava was using the word "awesome" in the proper context at 18 months, and now describes her brother as "mischievous," and tells us when she's "frustrated." Sure, she also asked when we would see "Appetizer" again. "Do you mean 'Avatar'?" I asked. "Oh, right," she said with a smile. But she's clearly absorbing many of the words we use with her every day.

11 month old Dylan, who is not as engaged by books at this stage as Ava was, simply sits still for four to five pages before doing his baby Hulk impersonation: "Hulk no like book! Hulk throw book, find noise. Hulk like noise!"

I'm looking for more tactile titles for him. He's clearly absorbing the torrent of words too, focusing intently as we say the word for each facial feature he points to. But he is much more physically adept than Ava was at the same age. The following titles look promising for him and Ava.

City-centric reads:

Also, Max Makes a Million by Maira Kalman
Max is a New York dog, but his dream is to live in Paris and be a poet.

"More More More," Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams
A trio of multigenerational, multiracial "love stories" about three pairs of babies and their grown-ups.

Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang
It's sort of a "Goodnight Moon" tale, but interesting. The book combines your average counting book (or, in this case, counting backwards book) with a bedtime sleepy story as an African-American girl and her father count down to bedtime.

Can you recommend any that have become favorites for toddlers and preschoolers you know?