One of the habits we try and encourage in my house is reading, and we believe it’s important to instill a love of books at a young age. We’ve been through a lot of books over the last almost-decade and we therefore have some built-in expertise on the subject. I now have three experts on children’s books at the ready to help anyone who wants to know what books make for good presents, so I decided to try a little experiment: Zagat-style reviews of books for young children. (I’m defining “young children” as ages 0-8.)
If you’ve never flipped though a Zagat, what the editors do is pretty simple and effective. They survey a bunch of diners, read through the responses, and then select quotes which summarize the overall take by the diners in aggregate. I’m doing the same thing, below, except that my survey has only three participants, all between the ages of three and ten. (The one over the age of 8 asked that I put this line here, objecting to the characterization that he is a “young child.” So noted.) also happen to live with me, making this rather convenient.
A disclaimer: The opinions stated below aren’t necessarily that of my employer or anyone else I’ve ever known. In fact, they’re not even my opinions, really; I’ve tried to stay as true as possible to the kids’ opinions, even in selecting the books.
All age ranges are via Amazon, if provided; all links are Amazon affiliate links.
Llama Llama Red Pajama (Ages 3-5):
“I have that book!” one reviewer excitedly exclaimed. “Yes!” “It tells kids that pajamas are good clothes” and “to go to bed.” And of course, “don’t scream when it gets dark at night but you’re still awake.” The children advise that this is a good book if your children need to be told to go to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night.
Dinosaur Versus Bedtime (Ages 2-5):
The children think this book is very funny because “the dinosaur keeps on winning and winning and winning” but in the end, he loses. One kid thinks that the book has a good lesson — you don’t always win — but the other two think that this book doesn’t have a lesson at all. “I met the author in Kindergarten,” beamed one child, who recommends the entire “Dinosaur vs.” series.
“This is one of my favorites!” even though it starts off sad — the girl “loses her monkey balloon!” The girl keeps looking and looking for her monkey balloon “but could not find it” until the end. “Then they find it,” one kid notes, but asked the person typing to not ruin the ending, “because that’s not fun.”
The Day the Crayons Quit (Ages 3-7):
“Everybody should like this” says the oldest of the three but the youngest disagrees — “I don’t like that book!” The oldest warns “don’t read the peach page” because “it makes you want to do this” (he says while wiggling his midsection). The middle guy explains: “the peach page is funny — it’s really funny! — because it says ‘I’m naked’ and the crayons asks ‘would you like to go to school without underwear?'” The only adult in the room adds that the quotes from the book may not be entirely accurate, but they correctly capture the plight of the peach crayon.
Press Here (Ages 2 and up):
It’s a “good book” because “on the page it tells you do something” and when you turn the page, “things happen and it always makes sense.” The book is like an iPhone app but on on paper (except that you have to turn the page). “The end is the same as the beginning!” says one child with gusto. The youngest of the three asks that we stop reviewing books right now because “I want to read this book right now” but the oldest would rather get a snack. “A banana, please,” he asks.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Ages 1-6):
“The caterpillar book!” screams the youngest one when asked what book should come next. “I love that book! It’s one of my favorites in the whole world!” She likes that “the caterpillar eats a lot of food” and “gets a tummy ache” and “gets big big big big big.” She explains that he flies away at the end. The oldest one says “that’s called metamorphosis” but she objects — “no! it’s called a butterfly.” The middle child laughed at the misunderstanding.
Interrupting Chicken (Ages 4-8):
This book “teaches you not to interrupt” one child says as another, of course, interrupts over and over again. “Just like the chicken” the reviewer notes. It’s “really funny” and the defining theme of the book is that chicken “always interrupts” suggesting that the book lacks the depth of some other choices. Nevertheless, it involves chicken and is evocative of a massively-underrated joke, both of which are pluses.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Ages 1-4):
The oldest didn’t want to discuss the book — “it’s not for kids my age.” The middle agrees: “I don’t want to talk about this.” The youngest likes that “all the letters drop on the floor” even if “some get boo boos.” The father reminds the other two that they really liked this book until they were, rightfully in their opinions, too old for it.
The Book with No Pictures (Ages 5-8):
A huge hit and all three agree for the main reason: it makes the grown-up say “Boo Boo Butt.” One objection, from the youngest: “I don’t like how it says eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.” None of the three care that the book has no pictures, but all believe that the book wouldn’t be fun to read — you really need the grown-ups to do the reading so you can laugh at them.
The Monster at the End of This Book (Ages 3-7):
“Grover is really silly” laughed one child who then began giggling uncontrollably, unable to add further commentary. Another took over: “Grover really tries hard to stop you from turning the pages and even builds a wall” but “it’s easy to break the wall, you just turn the page!” The popular opinion: the book is more fun of the reader tries to read in Grover’s voice, but that is, graciously, not required for enjoyment.
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (Ages 3-7):
The book for everyone: varied enough where you’re bound to have a favorite part, but never quite disinteresting. Selected highlights include “when the girl brushes the pet’s hair,” “the guy with eleven fingers,” “the animals that need haircuts every day,” and “the mouse that cut the phone wire” (he’s “pretty funny,” one smiled). No one likes the man with the old hat and gold teeth though — he was “weird” and kind of “scary.”
Green Eggs and Ham (Ages 3-7):
A “silly” way to teach kids “to try new foods,” says one child, charitably. It’s a “rhyming book” like “most Dr. Seuss books,” some select examples — from memory — are “ham and Sam,” “house and mouse,” “with a fox’ and ‘in a box’,” and “train and rain.” To underscore how memorable the book is, when asked where Sam will not try green eggs and ham, all three, in chorus, acclaim (correctly), “anywhere!”
Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons (Ages 4-8):
Pete keeps losing his buttons but he always says “that’s OK.” He still doesn’t cry when he is out of buttons because he “lifts up his shirt” and “still has a belly button!” One child wondered why Pete can’t grab the first button as it flew off his coat, but then remembered that “it’s because he can’t grip it” because cat’s don’t have opposable thumbs. (He needed reminding about the word “opposable.”)Originally published on December 13, 2014