Another year of reading has passed and my little baby is now a tall and confident boy ready to start school next year. The biggest shift in the last twelve months has been in how my son likes to read: we used to repeat his favourites a hundred times until he knew the words by heart, but this year it’s been more about learning. He’ll read a book to get the facts, then want to move onto something else.
But of course, there’ll always be his favourites. And I’ve listed our top-ten from the last year below. For previous years lists, click here.
1. Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can you? by Dr. Seuss
When my 4-year-old was a baby, a local newspaper ran a promotion where you could get a Dr. Seuss book each week and collect them all in a box set. My uncle, who has always showered my children with gifts, collected the whole set and gave them to my son. We’ve read every book numerous times, and I’ve loved the tongue-twisting stories just as much as my son has loved listening to them.
When he turned four, something changed. He started looking at the words and asking about the letters on the page. His mind made the clear link between what I was saying and what was written on the page. Mummy wasn’t a genius storyteller after all! She was just repeating someone else’s words.
I would read the small print, then we’d sound out the big letters together. P-L-O-P: Plop. G-R-U-M: Grum. B-U-Z-Z: Buzz. Mr. Brown Can Moo was the first book that encouraged my son to recognise words for himself.
2. Ask Me by Antje Damm
Now this is a sweet book. This year, my usually calm and easygoing 4-year-old went through his first testosterone boost and began to challenge everything around him. During a particularly difficult week, I heard on the radio about the book Ask Me and I bought it online right away.
It’s a book that encourages connection and conversation, by posing simple and open-ended questions such as ‘Who are you afraid of?’ and ‘Do you know what your parents looked like as children?’ My son took to the book immediately, and at night we’d snuggle in his tiny single bed together and share our answers, the conversation heading down tangents that other storybooks never allowed.
The images on each page are a mix of family photos and children’s drawings: unusual, unexpected and unpolished, and somewhat similar to those sleepy conversations with a four-year-old.
3. All About Ants by Densey Clyne
My son’s interest in the world around him has skyrocketed this year, with his brain becoming a little sponge for every fact from vehicles and planets to dinosaurs and insects. The local library has been our greatest asset, where from we’ve borrowed books covering every topic imaginable and played with Spark Discovery Boxes on magnets, sound, miscroscopes and telescopes.
When we read a book of non-fiction his little face lights up and he hangs off every word. Every fact I read results in a follow up question (often deferred to Daddy or Google for an answer). My son is discovering that Mummy doesn’t know everything, and on the topics of trucks in particular, I’ve accepted that he already knows more than I ever will.
All About Ants was one of the non-fiction books we read this year that my four-year-old loved. It covers all the amazing things these tiny creatures do and, growing up in a family of ant lovers myself, I couldn’t have been happier to share the facts in this book with the next generation.
4. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey
I was waiting for this moment to arrive, and I like to blame it solely on this book. My four-year-old’s obsession with bums, farts, and anything stinky. Hilarious, right?
This is one of the first books that invoked laugh-out-loud moments with my son. Piranhas, as the book explains, only eat bums, despite Brian the Piranha’s attempts to convince his friends to try a fruit platter. The silly-meter is set to extreme and my son’s roaring laughter is music to my ears.
5. Mr McGee and the Biting Flea by Pamela Allen
The simplicity and quirkiness of Pamela Allen’s books keep us coming back for more. The four-year-old and the one-year-old both love these stories and they are engrossed from beginning to end. The versions we get from the library are old, scribbled on and held together by sticky-tape. They have been clearly well-read by hundreds of children.
The poor, unlucky Mr McGee is this time being bitten by a flea. In search of the flea, Mr Mcgee gets completely undressed, and I am pleased that my kids are yet to think there’s anything wrong with that. The rhythm and rhyme is brilliant, and both kids love repeating when Mr McGee shouts ‘Ooh, oww, eee’ every time the flea bites.
6. Take a Deep Breath by Sue Graves
Deep breathing to manage strong emotions is something I’ve been working on with my four-year-old a lot the past year. When I saw this book at the library I picked it up right away.
It tells simple playground stories of children who stop to take a deep breath to get through challenging situations. As we went through the book we’d deep-breathe along with the children, to practice what they were doing. The book encouraged us to talk about the benefits of stopping to breathe through scenarios that were part of my son’s everyday life.
My children do daily meditation and yoga at childcare, and this continues well into primary school. I personally didn’t learn the true benefits of breathing until my late-20s and this shift in what we teach our young children gives me hope and optimism for the future.
7. Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose by Julia Donaldson
We bought this book for our son from a book shop during a holiday in Hong Kong when he was almost two. It’s been a favourite since then, but has only just made the top ten list.
Its bright colours and simple, clever rhymes make it a delightful book to read. The different personalities of the animals shine through and many of the phrases have become family favourites of ours, especially at the dinner table: ‘Carrots, yuck, says fussy duck’ (when my son says no to my nightly offer of carrots), ‘Too hot for me, says chimpanzee’ (when the meat needs to cool) and of course our favourite, ‘Blow on it then, says mother hen.’
8. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Burton
This book has stayed with me as a stand out for the year. It’s a story of an old steam shovel, who is eventually replaced by the diesel machines of the next era. It’s based on a true story and captures the sense of loss when industrial progress is made.
My four-year-old has always had an interest in vehicles and this story gave him an insight into how things change over time. The book depicted a slower, dirtier, more dangerous world than he will ever know, but there’s also a sweet innocence in how the characters in the book react to change. My son will see so much change in his lifetime, and it’s important for him to know stories such as these so he can appreciate how far, or how little, we’ve come.
9. The Worm Who Knew Karate by Jill Lever
This is a silly book that’s fun to read. Brian the Worm decides to learn karate when he discovers that he’s at risk of being caught by the ‘early bird’. It’s ridiculous but has a sweet morale about setting your mind to something and getting it done.
I took my son camping to Nelson Bay last summer and the two of us shared a tent after a scorching hot day at the beach. This is the book my son chose to take camping, and I read it to him before bed. He was being a rascal and refusing to sleep, so I must have read the book fifty times until he finally dozed off. Thank goodness it was a good book.
10. Izzy Wizzy by Elizabeth Dale
A few weeks before his fifth birthday, I got this book from the library. It’s a Level 1 First Reader, for kids just starting out how to read. My son had been showing great interest in letters on signs and pointing out random words in books, so I thought it was time to give this book a go.
I was so impressed with how he handled it. Every night I’d encourage him read one page himself, then I’d read the rest. He needed some help in sounding out letters, but mostly he’d work out the word himself. After a week he could read half the book almost completely unassisted.
‘I am called Izzy Wizzy and I am magic.’ It’s the first line of the book and we labored through each and every letter each and every night. The pride I felt when my son first reached the end of that sentence was incredible. My boy is learning to read and there’s no truer magic than that.