I stay in touch with my 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter in Boston by stuffing books into colorful envelopes and sending them via media mail. Her father reports that when they arrive, she knows there’s a book inside just for her, and I get to find out the success of books for early learning. Here are recent favorites:
Mark Gonyea’s “Counting on Letters” (POW!, ages 2-5) gives graphic representation to the letters of the alphabet, imbuing them with emotions and actions, cleverly pairing them with numbers. “1 A all alone,” reads the first page, and there’s a bold capital A in a spotlight. 2 B’s balance, 3 C’s connect, and 4 D’s dangle on succeeding pages. The book works for letter recognition and counting, but it’s also fun to read aloud and introduces lots of potential for dramatic play.
Christopher Franseschelli’s “Countablock” is a companion to his “Alphablock” (both from Abrams, ages 2-4). “Countablock” is all about changes. For example, one acorn becomes an oak tree when the page turns. Surprises surface as two snowmen become two puddles under a hot sun. The numbers go to 100; as the numbers get larger, page spreads show smaller images, as when 30 caterpillars become butterflies. This book supports not just counting, but learning about grouping by 10’s and visualizing what large numbers look like.
Suse Macdonald’s “Dino Shapes” (Little Simon, ages 2-5) uses shapes to lead to a surprise revealed only at the end of her book. “I had round eyes,” say the words on the first page accompanying two small holes. A page turn identifies these as circles. Each page adds a shape that becomes a dinosaur part – diamonds are scales, triangles are sharp teeth and finally, a large page folds out and becomes a smiling long-necked Brachiosaurus.
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Petr Horacek’s “Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa!” (Candlewick, ages 1-3). There’s a similar surprise here, as each board book page has an animal and its sound, in repeated pattern starting with, “Hee-haw, hee-haw says the donkey.” The pages get smaller in accordance with animals’ sizes and make for easy turning. All the page turns build the picture of a big mooing cow.
Henry Cole’s “Big Bug” (Simon & Schuster, ages 2 1/2-5) is a fabulous way for young children to understand how sizes can change based on the context in which you see them. The first page shows a big ladybug, who suddenly seems small in the next illustration as she crawls across a gigantic leaf. A page turn later, the ladybug and leaf seem miniature when a zoomed-out illustration shows they are only a part of a small flower.
There’s nothing like hands-on learning, and two new early activities books provide for that fun:
• Roger Priddy’s “Dot to Dot for Tiny Tots” (Priddy Books, ages 3-5) has bright pages and nearly complete drawings of objects designed to strengthen small motor skills as children trace, draw or connect dots to, for example, join a dog to his bone.
•Lucy Cousin’s “Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book”
(Candlewick, ages 3-6) has Maisy, a favorite character of early readers, inspiring drawing, thinking, coloring and more than 50 activities perfect for restaurant waits!