I first noticed my son was learning to read while pushing a cart around the grocery store.
“Meat!” he exclaimed, pointing at the giant word above the raw chicken.
Oh, I thought, OK, maybe I should pay attention to this.
Now, at 4-and-a-half, he reads quite fluently and with inflection. And I know what’s coming on the horizon…a tidal wave of books.
When I was a kid, I carried books with me constantly (Who am I kidding? I still do this!). I would pack more books than I could ever possibly read on a vacation, afraid that I would finish my book and be in a literary wasteland until I got home to my bookshelf. I remember starting and finishing books while waiting for a plane to arrive at the airport. Needless to say, my parents spent their fair share on expanding my personal library…mostly on horse-related books.
Now that George sits and reads for as long as his 4-year-old attention span will allow, I’m on the hunt for the next big thing. He (and I) gets bored reading the easy-reader books.
“Cat sees cake. Cat runs to cake. Cake eats cat.”
I’m running the risk of preaching to the choir here, but I have a wonderful author to recommend for this stage. We’ve become well-educated in the ways of Piggie Pig and Gerald Elephant, as we’re currently head over heels for Mo Willems.
Mr. Willems is a creative powerhouse. He started his career as a writer/animator on Sesame Street–winning Emmy awards–then moving on to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. In 2003, he became a stay-at-home dad and started writing picture books full time.
Also in 2003, he came out with his first–and possibly most well-known– book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. He won a Caldecott Honor, which is kind of a big (huge!) deal. The powder-blue pigeon made a few more book appearances, then took to the background, as he appears in most of Willems’ other books in cameo appearances and hidden Easter eggs. In our house, you can always identify when 2-year-old Olivia spots the pigeon in a book, as she yells, “Piiiiigeon!” as loudly as she can.
Fun fact! This year, the pigeon turned 16 and can officially obtain his driver’s license. Therefore, he no longer needs our permission to drive the bus, which may or may not create mayhem for the rest of the world.
Willems took a turn to write his Knuffle Bunny books, which include Trixie, a tribute to his daughter. We haven’t dived deeply into these, though we have read most of them. He’s also written the Cat the Cat series and numerous stand-alone picture books, all clever in their own right.
In our house, though, no Willems books compare to the Elephant and Piggie series.
Elephant, a worrisome and somewhat bossy pachyderm, has a best friend named Piggie, who is a relatively level-headed girl pig (it took me a few books to figure that out). And the two deal with day-to-day situations: making new friends, feeling lonely, sharing, etc.
I don’t know if I can accurately describe the brilliance of these books. Willems only uses easy-reader words and repetition, but the full-circle storylines crack me up every time. Simply inflection or capital letters morph the simple words into something new and interesting. Somehow, the stories teach a moral, make you laugh, and are accessible for young readers. They’re well-beloved in our home, especially as my minivan’s backseat is constantly buried in Elephant and Piggie hardcovers. George and I like to take turns reading the different characters. He also likes to pretend he’s a trumpet. GR-ICK!
Now, that we’ve checked out all of the Elephant and Piggie books from our local libraries (we frequent three county’s worth of libraries on the regular), I’m on the hunt for the next favorite. Got any suggestions?!
Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith – I’ve been on a summery romance kick lately. I’ve only just started this one, so I’ll have to let you know if I love it. It’s a nice break after binge-listening to Educated by Tara Westover. I highly recommend Educated, but it can take an emotional toll.