Books for preschoolers should have nice pictures and a plot of some sort


January 06, 1995|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Sun Staff Writer

Toddlers and preschoolers are a discriminating bunch, though you wouldn't know it by some of the schlock that publishers are cranking out for the 2- to 5-year-old set.

What separates the good from the bad? In even the simplest of picture books, something should happen. It might not qualify as a plot, but there should be a sequence of events put together logically.

The exceptions are "naming" books, chock full of objects that a toddler can add to her brain's fast-growing inventory. The illustrations or photographs should be large and sharp.

Stay away from any book that's smarmy -- an icky sweet tone and frilly, out-of-focus illustrations will bore kids. Look for rhymes that are engaging and story lines that appeal to a child's growing sense of independence and awareness of the world outside. Anything that makes a kid laugh is a keeper.

Best of all, let the little ones loose in the library a couple of times a month. They can browse, picking authors and illustrators that strike their fancy. Common sense should help adults select books that treat children with respect, but sometimes there's no accounting for taste. Seeing what kids pick out for themselves is the best guide.

Here are a few new titles worth checking out.

* "Tom and Pippo and the Bicycle," by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick, $8.95, 18 pages, ages 2-5) is another episode in the adventures of Tom, a toddler, and his stuffed monkey, Pippo.

Ms. Oxenbury, whose awards include the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Smarties Grand Prize in England, knows what appeals to kids. They identify with Tom. In this story, he enjoys riding his tricycle but gets frustrated because Pippo falls off the back every time they hit a bump.

When he sees Stephanie riding by on a new two-wheeler with an extra seat on the back, he's jealous. Then Stephanie comes up with a solution. She ties a wheelbarrow to the back of Tom's trike, creating a bed for Pippo. Tom is grinning as he pedals away.

* "Will Goes to the Post Office," by Olof and Lena Landstrom, translated by Elisabeth Dyssegaard (R&S Books, $13, 26 pages, ages 2-5) is the third in the Landstroms' series about Will.

Like "Will's New Cap" and "Will Gets a Haircut," it is an understated look at how an event that adults consider ordinary can be filled with drama for kids.

Will's mom gets a card saying there's a package for Will at the post office. Something from Uncle Ben. Will leaves the apartment to go fetch it, and his friends Karen and Peter join him for the walk to the post office.

It's just a few blocks, and nothing unexpected happens, but it is an adventure of major proportions. A couple more kids tag along for the trek back home -- Uncle Ben's box is three times as big as Will, but not very heavy -- so there's quite a crowd on hand for the unpacking of the surprise.

It's simple and sly at the same time -- maybe it's that wry Scandinavian wit. Kids will feel important and parents will yearn for a neighborhood in which 6-year-olds can walk a few blocks by themselves.

* No mention of titles for toddlers would be complete without a going-to-bed book. "Little Rabbit Goes to Sleep" by Tony Johnston, pictures by Harvey Stevenson (HarperCollins, $15, 32 pages, ages 2-5), certainly fits the bill.

Little Rabbit has trouble getting to sleep. He tries counting mosquitoes buzzing and mice feet scurrying in the rafters, but it doesn't help. Then he hears Grandpa's rocking chair creaking on the porch and goes out to join him.

In an ending reminiscent of the wonderful "Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?" Grandpa shows the bunny how the night isn't so big and dark and scary -- not when the stars are winking at you and the full moon is shining.

* "All Night Near the Water" by Jim Arnosky (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $15.95, 32 pages, ages 3-6) is a lovely way to introduce kids to the quiet wonders of nature.

Mr. Arnosky, a self-taught artist and naturalist, created the "Crinkleroot" character to teach kids about the outdoors. Some of his other books include "Every Autumn Comes the Bear" and "Otters Under Water."

In "All Night Near the Water," he follows a mother mallard as she leads her 12 ducklings down to the lake to spend their first night near the water. The ducklings look like preschoolers on a field trip as they gawk at frogs, sidle up to fireflies and barely escape a prowling pike.

Finally, exhausted, they huddle under mom for a good night's sleep. Mr. Arnosky's watercolors are precise in detail, yet they let each animal's personality come through.

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