Explore the world of the young child with me, Stephen Spitalny, early childhood consultant and writer. I offer lectures, workshops and mentoring around the world.
I was a kindergarten teacher at the Santa Cruz Waldorf School for 24 years and am a former board member of WECAN (Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America).
I was reading a ‘picture book’ to my 5-year-old granddaughter yesterday. We had just started and she interrupted and said, “It should start with ‘Once upon a time.'”
It made me think about stories and the timelessness of them. And I know that for some folks the idea of telling a story (without a book) is daunting, let alone make a story up. I think it is so important for young children’s lives to be filled with stories. I also think if you want your children to become readers, you need to read to them so they have something to imitate. And when they ask for the same story again, and again, and again for weeks on end, overcome your own desire for something different and support the child’s natural healthy instinct for repetition. It builds brains!
For this post I decided to share some of my favorite picture books with you all. I love stories and books! But which stories? There are so many to choose from.
Recently someone at a workshop I gave mentioned a book that I had to get. Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt describes the imaginative use of books in family life, and in it she also has lists of book suggestions.
Ms. Hunt asks; What kind of books? Stories that make for wonders. Stories that make for laughter. Stories that stir one within with and understanding of the true nature of courage, of love, of beauty. Stories that make one tingle with high adventure, with daring, with grim determination, with the capacity of seeing danger through to the end. Stories that bring our minds to kneel in reverence; stories that show the tenderness of true mercy, the strength of loyalty, the unmawkish respect for what is good.
Further she says, “Cruelty, evil and greed come into clear focus against kindness, truth and honor in a well-written story. I say well-written because nothing offends a child more than having to be told when something is mean and base or noble and good. The painful spelling out of what one is supposed to learn from a story evidences the author’s inability to create valid characters in a real-life plot. And it insults children. (p. 82)
So here is a short list of books that are extra special for me.
1. Some people have never heard of Wanda Gág. She wrote and illustrated many books for children which include Millions of Cats, and Snippy and Snappy. Both of these have that quality of repetition so important for young children’s developing brains. Her black-and-white illustrations have a magical quality with so many little details for the children to get lost in. After Disney’s Snow White movie was released, she translated and illustrated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a reaction against the "trivialized, sterilized, and sentimentalized" (her words) Disney movie version.
2. Two more repetition stories - The Apple Pie that Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson, and illustrated by Jonathan Bean, takes us through the process of making an apple pie. The illustrations are simple yet rich and in the end you can just about smell the pie. A wonderful story for the autumn.
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema is a lovely cumulative retelling of a Kenyan folktale. It describes the cycle of water and life on an African plain told in simple language that hooks you right in.
3. Barbara Berger is one of my favorite author/illustrators. Some of her books I read to my daughters literally hundreds of times, and eventually I memorized Grandfather Twilight. Grandfather Twilight is an elderly man whose daily task is to walk through the woods as evening approaches and set the moon up in the night sky. The pictures are magical and the story is a rich yet simple poem. Two of my other favorites by Barbara Berger are The Donkey’s Dream and When the Sun Rose.
4. Rosemary Wells is a must on my list. She wrote and illustrated three Bunny Planet stories about a young bunny whose day doesn’t go quite the way he wants it until he goes to the Bunny Planet where Queen Janet makes everything okay again. Ms. Wells also offers Only You which is a love poem from a baby bear to his mom describing the things that only a parent can do. This is a picture book for grown-ups about connecting with young children.
5. Pete Seeger’s storysong Abiyoyo was made into a book with illustrations by Michael Hays. This retelling of a South African folk tale is enlivened by the multicultural community depicted in the pictures. A wonderful story of courage accompanied by a simple song. It is such a favorite of mine that I included it on one of my own story cds.
6. Miss Rumphius written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney tells the story of a little girl who wants to make the world more beautiful, and how she did it. My daughters simply loved this book and call it ‘the lupine lady book.’
7. Eric Kimmel’s Hershel and the Hanukah Goblins is for the older range of pre-first graders. It tells how, with cleverness and courage, Hershel overcomes the goblins and their spell on his town.
8. I like stories describing real, archetypal work and these two are right up that alley. How a Shirt Grew in the Field is the story of making linen from flax in picture book form. Ox Cart Man by with illustrations by Barbara Cooney tells the story of the seasons and the work that is needed therein for this 1800’s New England family.
9. Mushroom in the Rain is adapted from a Russian story by Mirra Ginsburg. It is a fantastical story of animals getting out of the rain under an ever expanding mushroom illustrated with whimsical pictures. Like The Mitten by Jan Brett, there is almost always room for more friends to come on in and be warm and dry.
10. To round off my list of 10 (I know. I cheated already) I include a story from my childhood. The Contented Little Pussy Cat by Frances Ruth Keller tells about Abner who is always happy and care-free. The other animals wonder how he can be so easy-going and when they find out his method they know he is on to something. This is also a profound story for adults about the path of spiritual development toward true presence in the moment.
Another of my favorite authors is Jane Yolen Besides all the wonderful stories she has written, she wrote a book about children’s literature. In Touch Magic, Ms. Yolen takes into the world of folk and fairy tales. She says; The best of the stories we can give our children, whether they are stories that have been kept alive through the centuries through that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation we call oral transmission, or the tales that were made up only yesterday - the best of these stories tough that larger dream, that greater vision, that infinite unknowing. They are the most potent kind of magic, these tales, for they catch a glimpse of the soul beneath the skin.
Touch magic. Pass it on. P.S. What are your favorites? Post them and share! Touch magic. Pass it on.