The two toddlers I used to read to have grown into a middle- and a high-schooler. They read quite well now, and frequently, but on their own—and often from a screen. So when they recently noticed me studying the shelves that hold their childhood books, I was thrilled they agreed to assist in my search for five favorites for children ages 2 to 5 years old. Here’s what we came up with.
The first to receive an enthusiastic “yes!” was Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown’s 1947 classic, illustrated by Clement Hurd. From the looks of its tattered pages, we read Goodnight Moon “at least 5,000 times,” my 11-year-old said. It’s a perfect bedtime story, complete with simple but colorful illustrations and calming sentences—“Goodnight stars/Goodnight air/Goodnight noises everywhere”—that lull little ones to sleep.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, a lively, rhyming alphabet book by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault, and illustrated by Lois Ehlert, is anything but quiet. Which is one reason it’s fondly remembered—and still enthusiastically recited—in our house: “M is looped. N is stooped. O is twisted alley-oop. Skit skat skoodle doot. Flip flop flee. Look who’s coming! It’s black-eyed P.”
Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Pig a Pancake warns that “If you give a pig a pancake, she’ll want some syrup to go with it. You’ll give her some of your favorite maple syrup. She’ll probably get all sticky, so she’ll want to take a bath.” And a couple dozen Felicia Bond-illustrated, adventure-filled pages later: “When she hangs the wallpaper, she’ll get all sticky. Feeling sticky will remind her of your favorite maple syrup. She’ll probably ask you for some. And chances are, if she asks you for some syrup, she’ll want a pancake to go with it.”
Good Night, Gorilla, written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann, is a clever, 12-word tale of a mischievous zoo gorilla who lifts the keys from a night zookeeper. As he makes his rounds, saying good night to an elephant, a lion, a giraffe, and an armadillo, the gorilla follows quietly behind, unlocking everyone’s cage. The animals, including a banana-toting mouse, trail the zookeeper home and into bed with Mrs. Zookeeper, who naturally puts things right. Sort of.
No children’s book list would be complete without a Dr. Seuss. It took some thought—Green Eggs and Ham?; One fish two fish red fish blue fish?; Hop on Pop? After much back-and-forth, my daughters and I agreed on The Cat in the Hat. For 22 very good reasons: “I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny. But we can have lots of good fun that is funny!