Children’s book blog: Fun books for preschoolers

This is the latest in an occasional series by Beth Melo, a Southborough mom who loves to read to her kids. In this installment, Beth shares her picks for Thanksgiving reading. This post was originally published on the Southborough Library website, and has been reposted here with permission. For more of Beth’s book recommendations, click here.

Keep Coming Back for More: A Fun Book Series Reading List for Preschoolers

Last time, I focused on books to make toddlers smile. This time, I want to make preschoolers laugh. As I stated in my previous contribution:

I think the key to encouraging reading in children is enjoying it yourself. I hate reading them books that are boring, trite or annoying. My favorite books are the ones that we all enjoy reading over and over. While I have some favorite one-hit-wonders, I especially like book series since once the kids are introduced to the first book, they are enthusiastic as soon as they see the cover of another.

Below are ten of my favorite funny book series for preschool aged children. (There are other books that have made my kids laugh while I cringed. Those didn’t make my list.) Not all of these books are laugh-out-loud funny, but they are at least worth a decent smirk. (Note: I believe that using some good character voices or at least an expressive reading style helps to induce laughter.)

Most of these are available at the Southborough Library, the main reading source for my family:

  • Jill Murphy’s Large Family books: The theme is repetitive, but I find that’s usually a plus at this age. The stories center around a mother elephant whose children sometimes love her too much. Getting just a little break for them is a monumental task to which most mothers should relate. These books mostly make us smile, but the story Mr. Large in Charge inspires my kids to cackle over the baby’s antics.
  • Ian Falconer’s Olivia books: The famously quirky pig is entertaining and her exasperated mother is fun to relate to (especially in Olivia and The Missing Toy where the mother who slaves all day is underappreciated as the father who easily solves a problem by offering to buy the best toy in the world to replace the ruined one earns an “I love you the most”.) One caveat — I do find that I often have to explain or point out the funny parts to my children the first time I read one of these books. After that, they laugh and enjoy it without any guidance.
  • Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny books: This series focuses on a father whose daughter, Trixie, has a beloved stuffed bunny she can’t sleep without. I’m sure many parents and children can strongly relate to this issue. (I have been fortunate enough not to relate, but I can still empathize.) In Knuffle Bunny, the precious toy is lost. And again in Knuffle Bunny, Too and again in Knuffle Bunny Free. This may sound annoyingly redundant, but it isn’t. The main difference is Trixie. We experience her growing from an infant on the verge of speaking to a preschooler, then an adolescent, and eventually, through a touching epilogue, a mother. Mo Willems cracks us up in the first, makes us smile with the second, and (yes I’m a softie) made me choke up over the third.
  • Russell Hoban’s Frances books: This classic series is still a delight. The precocious Frances is entertaining. From her waning pleasure in stubbornly eating only one kind of food in Bread and Jam for Frances to her overconfident spelling in A Birthday for Frances, she makes me want to laugh. Some of the books offer good teaching opportunities to talk to children about how their actions make other friends and siblings feel. (Although, I must admit that, once again, the knowing parents is another big draw.)
  • Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola books: Lest you think I’m too self absorbed and parent focused, these books are glaringly parent-free. It is through the older brother’s eyes that we meet the oddly precocious Lola. In the first two books, I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato and I Am Not Sleepy and Will Not Go to Bed, Charlie cleverly “tricks” Lola into cooperating, only to learn she’s more clever than he thinks. Only two more books in the series are actually written as original books by Lauren Child. The rest are retellings of the spun off TV series, so not quite as good. But I have to say, to me they remain truer to the originals than most mass produced series.
  • Mary-Louise Gay’s Stella and Max Books: I’m inclined toward the older sister, younger brother books, since they remind me of my children. But these are fun beyond the formula. Beginning with Stella, Star of the Sea, Stella teaches her younger brother Sam about the world around them. Since she’s not much older than he is, she uses her fabulous imagination to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. (I like to ask the kids, “Is that true?” to which they laughingly shout “No!”) Eventually, Sam becomes star of the series, beginning with Good Morning, Sam, where he establishes he can dress himself (or can he?) In these books, Sam’s personality emerges more clearly, while we still enjoy Stella as an older sister.
  • Melinda Long’s Pirate books: Calling this a series might be stretching it. It’s actually a book and a sequel, How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don’t Change Diapers. But according to the author’s blog, another is in the works. These books are wonderful examples of pirates in children’s literature. The pirates live a life that is crudely appealing to children (though in the end, not as good as a child’s life). Captain Braid Beard and crew are free-spirited and fun loving treasure seekers. In the first book, Jeremy Jacobs experiences the culture shock of fitting into their world. In the second book, roles are reversed when they get a glimpse of family life with a baby in diapers. There is no reference to violence in either book, making it an easy read for the youngest set.
  • Sandy Asher’s Froggie books: Not to be confused with Jonathan London’s well known “Froggy” books. (My kids enjoy those, too. They are fine, just not among my favorites.) Sandy Asher’s “Froggie” from Too Many Frogs and Here comes Gosling! is probably less well known. But he makes up for that in style. The first book makes us smile as Froggie’s overly enthusiastic personality grows on us just as he grows on Rabbit. The second one is even better with some laugh out loud moments for the kids. (There is also a third book, What a Party! I just didn’t enjoy it quite as much.) It definitely helps to give Froggie a fun voice when reading these.
  • Jez Alborough’s Duck in the Truck books: The quirky, self absorbed and usually clueless duck bungles his way through adventures. In the process he definitely tickled my children’s funny bone. And since they are in rhyme form, they often enjoyed contributing to reading the book by filling in the rhyming words. The first, Duck in the Truck is cute. But I think we enjoyed Fix-It Duck and Captain Duck even more, where Duck’s overconfident personality is more of a focus. There are at least 3 more books in the series, and we enjoyed them all.
  • Jackie Urbonavic’s Max the Duck books: The description I first used above for Jez Alborough’s duck could easily also be applied to Urbonavic’s Max. But, they are far different creatures. Starting with Duck at the Door, Max establishes his own distinct, gourmet cooking, remote hogging identity. He forces his unwanted way into a unique family. As is the norm for these types of books, when the pushy duck leaves, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Duck Soup and Duck and Cover are just as entertaining. Sitting Duck isn’t my favorite, but is still enjoyable. There is also a beginner reader – Ducks in a Row – which is an inspired by, rather than written by Urbonavic. It’s sufficient for a beginner reader, not wonderful in its own right.

I’ll be back soon with some more of my favorite books for young children. In the meantime, if you have any questions about books on a certain topic, or anything else, feel free to e-mail me at becmelo@yahoo.com.

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