It’s August.  There’s a bit of relief in the air in the way of a momentary cooler breeze and hopefully a slowing down before it all starts up again.  September has always been my new year–conditioned by years of school, then teaching, and now working in a library.  In all the bustle of daily life, work, marriage, friendships, and the rapid change-mobile that is parenting a toddler, I’m trying to slow down more, and enjoy small moments. Late August seems like a good time for this, and these books may help:

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Wait, by Antoinette Portis (0-5)

When I first read this book, I thought….awesome, now I feel like a crappy mom because not all of our walks are “child-guided”, because sometimes you just have to get someplace.  But after reading it again with my son, I realized this isn’t the takeaway.  This beautifully illustrated book takes us on a hurried walk with a mother and son through the city to a crowded subway platform. There are many things to notice along the way, but the mother, cell phone in hand, implores repeatedly “hurry!”  The dedication by the author to her mother reads: “For my mom, who waited.” The act of waiting and being present is not something we can always do, but it is something we can sometimes do–and our kids will love and remember those moments.  

Early Literacy Focus: Wait is a near wordless book, giving you lot’s of opportunities to actively engage your child by encouraging them to tell you the story.  This helps them learn how books and stories work, that things happen in a certain order, one after the next.  It builds confidence in pre-readers or early readers, that they can “read” an entire story without adult help.  

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Ask Me, by Bernard Waber (2-5)

Illustrated by the extraordinary Suzy Lee (Wave, Shadow), this gorgeous new book is all about a conversation between a father and daughter, as they take a long walk through a glorious fall landscape.  It’s about taking the time to get to know each other.  It also models how to ask people questions about themselves, which is a wonderful way of teaching children about point of view, and that other people have likes, dislikes, opinions, fears–and how to use words to express their own.  It’s also one of the prettiest books I’ve seen in a while.  

Early Literacy Focus: Ask Me is a book about questions.  It’s a great book for interactive reading, and prompts you to ask open-ended questions about things you see and read in the book together.  This interactivity engages children more, so they learn more words, and practice important narrative skills.  

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Slowly, Slowly Slowly, Said the Sloth, by Eric Carle, preface by Jane Goodall (0-5)

My first college boyfriend was from Italy, and he used to call me a “little sloth.”  I’m still processing what he meant by that, but this book by Eric Carle makes me feel proud to have been compared with such a zen mammal.  The sloth is called many things in this story–slow, quiet, even boring.  However when called lazy, he rightfully defends his nature.  In doing so, he defends the “little sloth” in all of us. A cherishable small moment for me was hearing my toddler attempt to say “sloth” repeatedly as we read this book:  “Flof.”

Early Literacy Focus: Many picture books, even if not technically non-fiction, are great for exploring concepts and can be quite informative.  This book has an illustrated index at the back, where you can learn the names of all the glorious animals you meet throughout the book.   

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The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf (3-5+)

When I was 22, I almost got a huge tattoo of Ferdinand across my back.  Fortunately I was too broke to make this a reality.  But the love is still alive!  Ferdinand the bull is the ultimate pacifist and nature enthusiast.  He’d rather sit on a hill and smell the flowers than butt heads with the other young bulls.   We should all butt heads less and smell flowers more.  

Early Literacy Focus:  Ferdinand is such a wonderful and memorable character, making this a really fun story to retell with DIY sock or paper bag puppets, or even props you have on hand from your children’s toy box.  Retelling stories is a fun way to help children with comprehension, which is key to later reading success!

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Frederick, by Leo Lionni (3-5)

In highschool I drove my mom’s white Mazda MPV that had Frederick stenciled on the front hood, and an Arms are for Hugging bumper sticker on the back. This obviously made me the coolest teen in the DC public school system.  My mom always said she wished she could be like Frederick: collecting beautiful thoughts while everyone else toiled away at work.  The message in this classic story was always a little confusing to me.  Don’t daydreamers starve? Later I realized it’s about the idea that all work has value.  Art making, poetry writing, hedge-fund managing, CSA farming–all important!  I guess take the time to find what you love, and then do it.  It’s a process, and Frederick can help.  

Early Literacy Focus: Colors! Words!  Frederick collected colors and words.  Make color collages (I like using paint chips from the hardware store).  If collaging with a young toddler, use the sticky side of clear contact paper instead of paste and let them place the torn color pieces where they like–this is a great fine motor activity getting those little fingers ready for writing.  I like writing poems with my son by writing down words on index cards together, and then arranging and rearranging them to create poetry.  Keep adding to the stack as your child learns new words.

Looking for a great place to get these books?  Try your local library, or if you’d rather buy them, I like Books of Wonder, Book Court, and the Bank Street Bookstore.  


Jessica Ralli coordinates early literacy programs for children 0-5 at the Brooklyn Public Library, and has an MA in Early Childhood Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.  In her spare time, she likes making stuff and going places with her very active 21 month old son, Jack.  Jessica lives in Brooklyn (15 years and counting) with her husband, son and their whippet/lab mix named Mia.  Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of BPL. She tweets her early literacy adventures at twitter.com/jessicaearlylit.