Read to Me: Picking Books for Toddlers
Hail to toddlers: they are the tiniest population (so-to-speak) and the most fun to buy books for. Keep in mind, if buying books for young kids is new to you (as it was for me), then you do want to think about where they are in their development. Books can give them an awesome chance to interact with images, textures and words that prep them for so much in the world. At the same time, you don’t want to buy them something that doesn’t necessarily match their age. You can check out recommendations of books from Reading is Fundamental, if you need some help picking.
This was tricky for me to figure out at first since all I really wanted to do was read my then two-year-old nephew Makeway For Ducklings— an old favorite of mine that couldn’t keep his attention. If you’re having a hard time with picking like I did, Scholastic has a useful explanation of types of books for certain age ranges.
You can probably tell– I’m pretty obsessed with buying my nephew books, to the point where I need to be careful to avoid becoming the Reading Aunt who gives unwanted books.
Through a few failures and successes, I’ve come to realize that choosing toddler books is all about bridging the toddler’s ability from one task to the next. So, when my nephew started to grow out of the hard books and into books with paper pages and (Yes!) plot lines, it was still important to find a rhyming book that would keep his attention. Of course, he can’t read yet at three-years-old, but rhyming allows the story to still feel interactive as someone reads to him.
Naturally, since the Reading Aunt is psychotically excited about buying picture books, she commonly ends up reading to him. Which is awesome, actually. The only problem with this is the annoying books– the ones that you don’t want to read EVER AGAIN. But you will, over and over and over.
Hand, Hand, FIngers, Thumb falls under this. There’s nothing wrong with this book since my nephew has absolutely learned from it, and knows all of the words on his own. His love for this book is the reason that we return to it again and again. It’s lovely when you can see such early excitement about reading, and see him rush to turn a page. By all means, this book is a fantastic one. But, everyone who reads to this toddler is pretty tired of Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb: the repetition, the rhyming, the hand motions that seem to go with it and, in general, the number of times you are expected to read it.
It’s more important than anything else to realize that a kid’s love for books is all his own. So, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb will never be retired unless the child deems it so. My nephew is his own person and he has specific tastes. So, why thwart that?
But still, there’s always room to grow, and other options. I decided to take a careful approach and give him a picture book that bridges beyond Hand, Hand Finger Thumb but still celebrates why he loves that book. In an attempt to find the next step up with an approach to a conflict head-on, I went searching for a brightly-colored, animal-centric book that rhymed, but still had a really awesome rhyme scheme to support the sing-song style. So, my new gift was The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen, and my nephew was willing to go with it, which is promising for a first read. We pointed out the hiding animals. We talked about the scary part. It was a success.
But, by all means, we will read Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb again. There’s no escaping this. At the same time, though, while I’m feeling pretty good about my Reading Aunt style at this point in our lives, someday he won’t want picture books from me. He will move on to darker conflicts, complex characters (even if they remain animals), and he will graduate to something more. There’s a possibility that he won’t want books from me at all, which will be a bit heartbreaking. And that’s why I really can’t turn down reading to him now.
For right now, bring on the animals, the body parts, the rhyme schemes. Bring it. Even Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb.
(Note: the version of Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb discussed here is a shortened version of the original text. Some claim that the original, longer version is better, but this writer hasn’t yet come across it.)
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