The Deep Blue Sea – A Book of Colors

This unique, somewhat minimalist book is about colors, but also encourages discovery and anticipation.

The pictures begin right at the start of the book, on the inside of the cover, and continue all the way through to the inside of the back cover. Each page introduces a new color and new animal/object, as well as a hint about what will be on the next page. This act of discovery, looking for the clue, was very appealing to our kids.

The art is distinctive, looking like computer-generated 3d images. I honestly didn’t care for the artwork, and still don’t upon reviewing it again, but the kids seemed to like it. But there is a contrast between the very bright foreground images (e.g. a purple parrot) and the much more subtle background detail (e.g. the fish swimming underwater) and the kids enjoyed hunting for these subtle details.

There’s not much to this book, really, but the simplicity is part of the appeal, and the details that it does have place it above other books that simply list colors and shapes.

Press Here – HervĂ© Tullet

Price: $10.99
Was: $15.99

Known simply as ‘Un livre’ (a book) in its original French publication, ‘Press Here’ is a fun book that our kids enjoyed and wanted to read again and again. Of all our books, this one has probably been physically damaged the most through heavy use. The book asks the reader to press colored dots on the page, blow them, and tilt the book to slide them around. There are no electronics in the book, on the contrary the images are very clearly hand-painted and non-computer-generated-looking. So, the dots don’t actually move – you have to turn the pages to see what happens as a result of your actions.

For children used to interacting with the touch-screens of phones and tablets, the ‘old-fashioned’ medium of a printed book asking them to interact with it turns out to be a delight.

The author has written several other books for children, all fun, and many of which also include the dynamic of the book being treated as a physical object, and not just a set of printed pages.

Price: Check on Amazon
Price: $10.03
Was: $14.95
Price: $19.95

Biography of the author

Doc McStuffins

I first heard of Doc McStuffins from a joke Nick Offerman told about the ubiquity of the character and the show’s theme song. And I couldn’t relate directly, having never seen the show, but I had had similar experiences with other shows, such as Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or Caillou, which have songs catchy enough to take up permanent residence in your head, but aren’t so good that you want them there.

My dad then found some Little Golden books at the grocery store for maybe $1.50 apiece that were essentially book versions of some of the episodes. In my experience, novelizations of movies are one of the lowest forms of literature and I assumed that these books would be similarly terrible. And the name, “Doc McStuffins” sounded cutesy and stupid. But they’re actually pretty good. The writing of the original show is decent and the book versions tighten up the dialogue in order to to get to the heart of the plot.

The stories revolve around a girl who gives medical help to her stuffed animals. There is a bit of a ‘Toy Story’ feeling since the toys and dolls become inert when the parents or other kids are nearby. The stories begin with a toy or doll experiencing some problem and Doc then runs test to identify the problem and come up with a cure (which may involve duct tape or some other MacGyver-y solution). This is actually an excellent way for kids to get exposed to the scientific method and logical thinking.

We eventually found the show on TV and the kids got excited when they saw an episode that they had already read. And they enjoyed even more reading the book version of a episode they had already seen. Since they already knew the story and the dialogue, they had an easier time following along in the book.

I was surprised to learn that the show was a Disney Junior program. I love the classic Disney movies, but I associate current Disney programming with garbage shows such as “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”, or other shows that sexualize preteens. So it was refreshing to see a show, and read books that do not do that.

Being a Disney product, you better believe there are loads of plastic toys for sale with the Doc character’s face on them. I can’t vouch for any of those, but the books and the show are good.

Geckos Make a Rainbow, Geckos Go To Bed

Price: $6.74
Was: $8.95
Price: $8.95

We bought these two books when we lived in Hawai’i and were standard bedtime reading for our two-year-old, even after we moved to the mainland. They were precious enough to lug with us.

The drawings are fun and there is enough Hawai’ian imagery and references for the stories to feel a bit ‘exotic’ to some children, but no so much that they seem strange.

The Geckos Go To Bed story is very silly, with about 20 geckos jumping in and out of bed, knocking over the lamp, spilling milk, etc. So you may want this to be the first book of the night, not the last, because it is a bit stimulating.

Jon J. Murakami has several other books in his gecko series as well.

The Giant Jam Sandwich

This is a classic that our kids asked for again and again, even taking it to kindergarten for show-and-tell. The illustration style is unique and appealing. And the text, written in verse, makes it easy for children to follow along:

Bap gave instructions for the making of the dough.
“Mix flour from above and yeast from below.
Salt from the seaside, water from the spout.
Now thump it! Bump it! Bang it about!”

The book we got came with a CD, so the kids can listen in the car or follow along with the pictures.

The story (spoiler alert) concludes with the asphyxiation of 3,999,997 wasps. The idea of so many dead bugs did not bother us or the kids, but might be alarming for some.

The Monster at the End of This Book

My kids were scared of this book at first and it took a lot of convincing to read it. After they saw the twist ending however, they asked for it over and over, proud that they had conquered their fear. A classic.

An interesting dynamic occurs after the first few pages, when Grover begins begging the reader to not turn the page. Sometimes the kids think we shouldn’t turn the page and just put the book down, honoring Grover’s wishes. And other times they gleefully demand we turn the page even though we’re being asked not to. This gives the kids some agency and a sense of violating the rules, in a harmless way.

This is a fun one to read aloud because Grover gets so emotional and worked up over the course of the story.

Look out for Mater!

This is a little golden book about Lightning McQueen trying to be a good friend to Mater, who has a knack for getting in trouble. It has a good lesson about friendship and following rules, even if the kids aren’t into the movie Cars. My kids never got into the movie, but love the characters and the stories based on them.

My big train book

This is the only book that we have three copies of, one at home and one at each of the kids’ grandfathers’ houses. There’s not much to it, just a bunch of pictures of trains. There is no story, but it’s a book the kids seem to enjoy reading with their grandfathers.

Simply going through the pages, identifying the trains, seems to lead to story telling and good bonding.

I like vegetables

This is a board book about vegetables (obviously) and opposites (above/below, inside/outside, etc.) and also has textures on the pages that the kids can feel.

It’s a simple book but one of the popular ones. Our 4-year-old even pulls it out sometimes.

Backyardigans

This is a Nick Jr. cartoon that was very popular with our kids. The music is particularly good.

5 animal friends play together with a different theme (Egypt, under-the-sea, space, cowboy, etc.) each episode. The friends take turns being the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ and the overall tone is very kind and gentle.

It ran from 2004 to 2010 with a total of 80 episodes.

You can watch for free at NickJr.com if you have a cable tv account, and it’s available on amazon’s streaming video service as well. (And they’re all on YouTube too, although you may have to hunt for them.)