There comes a time when the long-suffering parent just can’t read The Little Blue Truck any more. Or My First Farm Book, with its disturbing implication that there will be more farm books to come. Or even Blueberries for Sal, my favourite for the preschool crowd, but one I’ve now read so many times I want to rip out the pages and stuff them in my mouth while sobbing.
Photo: Jose Maria Cuellar
Time for some new books for my four-year-old! But I’m a little stumped – in a couple of years, we’ll be into Ramona Quimby and The Magic Treehouse, but I’ve been operating under the assumption that years three to five is kind of a “doughnut hole” period in children’s literature.
“Not true!” say the librarians, children’s and otherwise, of the New York Public Library. Below, their 16 best recommendations for chapter books that will keep your preschooler – and you – entertained for months to come.
“I adore Barkus by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant. It’s a new classic story of a girl and her dog, whom her Uncle Everton claims is the smartest dog in the world. It has big, colourful illustrations, but the story is told in short-and-sweet chapters – a great introduction to reading longer fiction for kids who are ready to take a step up from picture books.” – Gwen Glazer, the recommendations librarian at the NYPL.
“Detective Gordon and his assistant Buffy set out to discover who is stealing Squirrel’s stockpile of nuts. Crime solving is hard work, but there is always time for cake and tea. It’s a short chapter book with warm, colour illustrations that would appeal to preschoolers. If this hits the right note with your child, there are two more Detective Gordon stories.” – Louise C. Lareau, Managing Librarian, Children’s Center at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
“A boy rescues a baby dragon who other animals have imprisoned, and forced to fly them back and forth across a river. It’s short, and exciting, but not too scary, and each chapter resolves an adventure, so your little one isn’t left with a cliffhanger at bedtime!” – Clarissa Cooke, Senior Children’s Librarian, 96th Street Library
“This is book one in the Lighthouse Family Series, and is about lonely animals who move into a lighthouse and become a family.” – Clarissa Cooke
The NYPL’s senior children’s librarian Jenny Rosenoff also offers a few suggestions:
Captain Pug is about a pug dog who’s excited for his sailing adventure, but with only problem – he’s afraid of the water!
Charlie and Mouse is about two brothers who go on adventures, starting off with a neighbourhood party. The illustrations are charming, especially the one of bleary-eyed parents clutching the coffee pot after an early-morning wake-up.
If your child is a budding naturalist, this is the story for him. The series is about a girl living in turn-of-the-century Texas who has an avid interest in the natural world: The first book has Calpurnia exploring why the yellow grasshoppers in her yard are bigger than the green ones.
Lucy, Rosie and Tess are nine-year-old cousins living with their aunt for a year while their parents, all ballet dancers, are touring the world. This series has a Little Women feel to it – the girls sleep in the attic and pursue their own artistic dreams.
Susie Heimbach, another children’s librarian at the NYPL (and who has a preschooler herself) suggests these:
“For such little guys, I still like chapter books that have lots of pictures. Some of my favourites are the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo, which are about a silly pig who likes buttered toast.”
“I also like the new version of the Ricky Ricotta and His Mighty Robot series by Dav Pilkey (with illustrations by Dan Santat) – my boys and I have buzzed through this series several times.”
“Digby O’Day, by Shirley Hughes (and illustrated by her daughter Clara Vuillamy) is a very sweet story about two dogs racing in their car; there are two other books in the series too.”
“This is chapter book collection that’s very relatable, even to younger kids.”
“Not-a-Pig is another cute story about a shy tapir who gets adopted by a precocious little girl,” named Mango Allsorts – that name should win the author a prize right there – and the two have adventures getting the tapir used to life in the big city.
And finally, I can personally vouch for the Frog and Toad series – short chapters, great illustrations, and a sweet story about friendship. My son never gets tired of them, even if I have, just a tad, so I think I’ll rotate in a few of the above suggestions before we go back to it.
In the long run, it doesn’t matter if you get it totally right, every time. As Susie says, “the big thing is carving out cosy reading time together that you both enjoy.”