Teaching pre-kindergarten for the past 10 years has taught me at least one thing: If you want to know whether or not a children's book is any good, read the book to a child, and wait. If the child asks you to read the book over and over again, then chances are you have a good book in your hands.
Thanks to my pre-kindergarten class of 2002, the following books are kid-tested and kid-approved:
I'M GONNA LIKE ME
By Jamie Lee Curtis
Illustrated by Laura Cornell
Joanna Cotler Books
By John Lithgow
Illustrated by C.F. Payne
Simon & Schuster
$17.95, 40 pages
By Jerry Seinfeld
Illustrated by James Bennet
Little Brown & Co.
$18.95, 32 pages
Three American actors are making names for themselves in the children's literature market. Jaime Lee Curtis has released her third effort, I'm Gonna Like Me, and has once again succeeded in creating a children's book that is both entertaining and educational, tackling the topic of self esteem. Her cute word play doesn't condescend, and the book's larger-than-life illustrations make for an exciting book that kids want to read over and over again.
John Lithgow has published his third story, Micawber, about a squirrel living in Central Park who has a taste for fine art. The writing is at times awkward, and the rhymes are somewhat forced, but the story is fresh and inventive, and provides an excellent introduction to the world of art appreciation. The detailed illustrations appealed to both me and my students, and we fell in love with the squirrel.
Just in time for Halloween, Jerry Seinfeld has released his first children's book, Halloween. While the story is nothing more than a stand-up comedy routine sanitized and simplified for children, its vibrant illustrations jump off the pages, and the book succeeds in spades, thanks to its cannot-fail topic — Halloween candy!
By Robert Munsch, Saoussan Askar, Suzanne Duranceau
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
$19.95, 136 pages
Robert Munsch made his mark on children's literature in 1986 with Love You Forever, a touching but slightly odd story about the relationship between a mother and her son. Munsch has since flooded the market with some of the most original, creative, and bizarre children's literature since Dr. Seuss. Amnick Press has just released a fourth volume of his work titled Munschworks 4, which is as good a reason as any to run out and discover this truly gifted children's author. Whether writing about the father who sleepwalks in sub-zero degree weather, or the 2-foot boy who wreaks havoc on a little girl's life, or the student who invites the entire school to her birthday party, Munsch's writing bursts at the seams with quirky details, outlandish plot twists, and an underlying surrealistic edge. Like Seuss, Munsch's books also contain important lessons about life, which makes indulging in his work that much more satisfying.
GOOD NIGHT GORILLA
Written & illustrated by Peggy Rathman
Putnam Publishing Group
Good Night Gorilla easily qualifies as one of the all-time favorite books of any class I have taught.
The story is simple: It is closing time at the zoo, and the night watchman is making his rounds wishing the animals a good night. Trouble looms, however, when a gorilla lifts the night watchman's keys and follows him around the zoo, setting the rest of the animals free.
The story is told entirely through pictures. Other than the words "good night" captured in dialogue balloons on nearly every page, there is no text or narration in this book. The colorful and detailed illustrations — realistically drawn but with a cartoon zest — reveal all the information needed to tell the story. This book provides teachers (and parents) an excellent opportunity to develop storytelling skills by encouraging children to provide the words — a different experience every time, since the book's illustrations reveal new details each time through.