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children’s lit

“Oh no, Tigey! The big bad wolf is coming to eat us!” Munchkin squealed with delight, clutching his stuffed tiger as he cowered behind a couple of throw pillows on the couch. When D growled to be let into his makeshift house, Munchkin squealed even louder, giggling all the while. “Not by the hair of my chinny-chinny-chinny,” he exclaimed defiantly from under a pillow before making a beeline out of the room and screaming, “Run away! Run away! Run away!” A few minutes later, Munchkin donned his wolf costume, Halloween having come a few months early in our household, and the roles were reversed, with D cowering on the couch while Munchkin pretended to eat him.

Few stories have captured the little man’s imagination like the Three Little Pigs – a classic D started reading to him in Russian long before Munchkin could vocalize his appreciation for it. Given his utter fascination with this age-old tale and his insistence on hearing the same story over and over, S sought to expand Munchkin’s horizons beyond the classic version in English and the old Disney cartoon it inspired.

First, she introduced David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs – a surreal rendition in which the pigs escape out of the story, skip between other fairy tales, and end up living with a dragon. And recently, we picked up two more variations on the three little pigs theme from the library: the hilarious Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, in which the roles of victims and villain are reversed, and Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. We had the books checked out for less than a week before Munchkin had learned them by heart. Story time these days is just as apt to feature him reading to us as the other way around.

Contrary to D’s predilection for classic Russian tales, S only likes a small selection of the books her mom had saved from her childhood years. Dr. Seuss, Curious George, and the Bernstein Bears, for example, seem far less captivating now that she is the storyteller. Knowing that any book Munchkin enjoys will have to be read several thousand times over has made S reluctant to introduce them. Similarly, she’s found that although many children’s authors produce a copious amount of books, in most cases only the original one or two books that launched their careers are worth reading. Julia Donaldson, Mem Fox, Audrey Wood, Robert Munsch and one or two others are the exceptions to this rule.

We’ve sampled dozens of books with Munchkin over the last month, making several trips a week to the library this summer. Here are our favorites:

  • The Snail and the Whale (Julia Donaldson) – We had heard of Donaldson’s The Gruffalo (which is also excellent), but only came upon this delightful tale when Munchkin received it as a gift from one of his daycare classmates. The story of a tiny mollusk that hitches a ride on a whale’s tail to live out its lifelong dream of seeing the world is a perfect fit for our itinerant lifestyle. We also love Donaldson’s Room on the Broom.
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Philip & Erin Stead) – A gentle story of friendship that underscores empathy, understanding, loyalty, and the value of good deeds. Munchkin butchers the character’s name but loves the narrative.
  • Pete the Cat (James Dean & Eric Litwin) – Not all of the books in this series are good, but there are quite a few that Munchkin enjoys for their catchy songs and bright, cartoonish illustrations. And the moral – don’t sweat the small stuff – is good too. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons was the book that first captured Munchkin’s heart, and he also enjoys Pete the Cat Rocking in His School Shoes and Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. 
  • The Circus Ship (Chris Van Dusen) – We were recently introduced to this Maine author and are completely enamored of his stunning artwork and rhyming texts. This humor-filled story focuses on the connections between humans and animals. Munchkin loves the hidden-picture spread and using his “eagle eyes” to find all of the circus animals. Pure genius.
  • The Storm Whale (Benji Davies) – Another book featuring a whale that seems quite appropriate to the Foreign Service lifestyle. It’s an offbeat father-and-son tale that illustrates how goodbyes are temporary.
  • Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge (Mem Fox) – We loved this Australian author for her board books when Munchkin was younger. Now we are thrilled that Munchkin enjoys this poignant, more serious story of a young boy who befriends an older woman who lives in a nearby nursing home. When she loses her memory, the intrepid Wilfred sets out to find it for her. This book resonates particularly well with Munchkin because S’s mom is a geriatrician and has taken him to a nursing home to meet her patients.
  • The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear (Don & Audrey Wood) – One of the few author duos S has found who have many excellent books. The stories are short, simple, and yet engrossing – perfect for the times Munchkin demands an extra story before bedtime. We also love their Quick as a Cricket.
  • Warning! Do Not Open This Book (Adam Lehrhaupt) – A little reverse psychology goes a long way. Munchkin can’t resist the urge to turn the pages, wading through caution tape, warning signs, and scenes of chaos. He loves that this book beckons him into the action.
  • Stick and Stone (Beth Ferry) – Another fantastically offbeat book about friendship. We just picked it up a couple of days ago and it has already cracked our top rotation.
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