It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Read it again!!!

Parenting (stop me if you’ve heard this) is not one long sunny journey of laughter-filled days. Though of course it has its joys, and of course, creating a happy, functional adult is the ultimate reward, there are lots of exhausted bits, frustrating bits, and stretches of tedium.

One of those, books, comes early. We know books are good for kids. We all probably genuinely enjoy reading. So you take your precious bundle into your lap just about as soon as they can hold their head up, and you start reading to them. Mommy or Daddy’s voice, a warm lap, the comfort of your arms around them. Reading a book is like a great big hug! OF COURSE they will learn to love reading!!

But at first, of course, they can’t read. At first, they have to be read to. (And you may certainly continue that long past the time they can read on their own. I have many warm memories of chapter books read to school-age children, the whole family a cuddling lump of happiness.)

When they are teeny infants, you choose the book, you read the words, you talk about the pictures. You laugh as an excited, dimpled hand swats the pages. Then you choose another book.

Then they become toddlers, and they still love to be read to. So you choose a book … and they loudly object. “Not that book! THIS one!!!” and hand you “Snoofy and Bumpus Learn to Wipe their Bums”. You do not want to read Snoofy and Bumpus. You have read Snoofy and Bumpus every damned day for the past three months. You have even read Snoofy and Bumpus more than once each day. In fact, you know that were it not for a few tantrums (yours) you would have read Snoofy and Bumpus fifteen times back-to-back every day for three months.

You hate Snoofy and Bumpus. You are also harboring serious doubts about your child’s sanity, or at least her intelligence. You have no doubts at all about her literary taste: It stinks.

We can talk some other time about ways to deal with this Common Parenting Challenge, but today we’re going to try to take a more positive approach. Today we are going to list books that we honestly don’t mind reading many times.

Perhaps not many times in a row. Adults, we all know by now, are sorely lacking in attention span, at least when compared to their obsessive-compulsive toddler. But a book you don’t mind reading daily. There are such books!

… Or maybe I’ve just been hanging around toddlers so long they’re starting to rub off on me. Possible. But I do have a few books that I have read literally hundreds of times down the years, and I still enjoy reading them. Seriously.


Are You My Mother? Lots of opportunity for a dramatic read in this one, and though some of your more delicate flowers might find it a bit fraught if you pour on the emoting too convincingly, it’s a great read.

Hippos Go Beserk! I love the rowdy rhythm of this book. Just love it.

In fact, Sandra Boynton makes it to my list more than once, with

Blue Hat, Green Hat
But Not the Hippopotamus (Real opportunity to teach empathy and talk about social exclusion, in very simple terms)
The Belly Button Book
The Going to Bed Book
Moo, Baa, LaLaLa
Barnyard Dance.

From Head to Toe, by Eric Carle (So fun to see a bunch of toddlers try to wiggle their hips. Because of course you do the actions as the book is read!)

Something from Nothing. There are two stories going on at once in this beautifully illustrated book, one of the boy and his wonderful blanket/coat/vest/handerchief… and one of the mice who live under the floor at his grandparent’s home. Lovely story, lovely to look at. Beautiful book.

I’m sure there are more. I have not been reading the same handful of books for decades, but those will do for a start. How about you? What book(s) can you read repeatedly without pain? Share, please! Every parent needs a bunch of these!

September 11, 2012 - Posted by | books | , , , ,


  1. My sister bought my son some books for Christmas last year and they are my absolute favourite read-aloud books. I never get tired of them – neither does my husband, and even my 7 year old will tiptoe into the room when he hears them.

    They are “The Gruffalo” and the very cute sequel, “The Gruffalo’s Child” by Julia Donaldson, and “The Snail & The Whale”, also by Julia Donaldson.

    The Gruffalo books are funny, with great rhymes and a rhythmic cadence that’s impossible to ignore. Lots of opportunity here for emotive reading and different voices, and the endings are great fun, too.

    The Snail and the Whale is one of those books that a grownup can get all choked up reading if they’re in the right frame of mind. Just a wonderful story and I always have a smile on my face at the end.

    Thanks for your recommendations! Although “Are You My Mother” is verboten in this house. My adopted and unsuccessfully seeking his birth parents husband went to pieces in the bookstore one day reading it to my oldest. Oops.

    Comment by Hannah | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  2. Ha! I came straight to the comments to mention Julia Donaldson and find I’ve been beaten to it. Yes, “The Gruffalo” and “The Snail & The Whale” would be my favourites, but she is a prolific author – there are many excellent books here to choose from. Her rhymes and rhythms are so skillful, and when she pairs up with Axel Scheffler as illustrator (as she does on those mentioned here) then the pictures are also something to delight in – so much wonderful detail. One of the more recent ones is “The Highway Rat” which is inspired by the poem “The Highwayman” (Alfred Noyes) and if you know and like that poem then this is a real treat.

    Another absolute favourite which we read over and over to babies, toddlers and beyond is “Peepo” by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, and that led us onto another of theirs: “Each Peach Pear Plum” which we also love.

    Comment by Kate R | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  3. Grandfather twilight, over yonder, anything by Paul Fleishman — especially Birthday Tree. And I hate to say it but I love Goodnight Moon.

    You know what? So do I. It’s so gentle and ruminative.

    Comment by reduakeri45 | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  4. Is Your Mama a Llama? (Of course I memorized it, so didn’t really need to read it!) Plus I loved all of Iza Trappini’s singing stories like her Twinkle Twinkle.

    Comment by My Kids Mom | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  5. The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood. It’s a piggyback story (a la “The House That Jack Built”) and I just love the illustrations.

    Jamberry by Bruce Degan also has enjoyable detailed illustrations and fun wordplay.

    In our house, Adventure Girl (age 2:10) likes any Eric Carle, but her current over-and-over requests are The Monster at the End of This Book and Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. I’m fine with both of those.

    (We are in the process of adopting Adventure Girl. She arrived at our house in June, so we’re still really new at this parenting gig. Mary, I’ve been reading your blog since long before AG came home, and your honest discussions of the crazymaking parts of toddlerhood have been invaluable to me. Thank you!)

    Comment by Molly | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  6. I Love You Forever. My very favorite little ones book. And the song lyrics work well to the classic lullaby tune…

    Comment by Rini | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  7. We like the Elephant and Piggie books when we want cheering up. Also Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus…really anything by Mo Willem.

    Comment by Samantha | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  8. Mortimer is okay, as are most Munsch, really. But honestly, even Sandra Boynton pales with repetition.

    Comment by IfByYes | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  9. I’m fond of Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney – fun to read with the voices.
    My kids love Elephant and Piggie even though they’re way beyond picture books – they’re just so gently funny.
    The old Sesame Street Grover books are wonderful – The Monster at the end of this book, and Hide and Seek: with Lovable, Furry Old Grover
    There’s a lovely picture book for the very young called Counting Farm by Kathy Henderson that was my kids’ favorite, and a soothing read.
    And for preK, I could read Jungle Drums by Graeme Base over and over. And the illustrations are endlessly engaging.

    Comment by Lynn | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  10. Clifford’s Bathtime and Clifford’s Bedtime. I know, right? They sound generic and boring but surprisingly, I don’t mind reading these over and over and all three of my kids absolutely loved these books! They are so simple and short, with some fun emotion in them. I grew up on Maurice Sendak, Robert McCloskey and Virginia Lee Burton, so it feels weird to recommend a clifford book, but there you go.
    Oh! Also, Pirates, by Viviana Garófoli. We always read it in a pirate voice and when the girls would read it to themselves, they would use the pirate voice, too! It was awesome. And all 3 girls (1, 5 & 7) still love to yell the last page out together, “Gold and Jewels!!!!!” (Loved hearing a 3 year old read, “Thar she blows!)

    Comment by Meesha | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  11. Apart from the ones already mentioned in the comments, we like “chicka chicka boom boom”…..these days, it’s also a ritual to read the “I’m a big sister now” book as baby#2 is due anytime. I got a few new suggestions from here and will get the books from the library :)….great post!

    Comment by Shachi Thakkar | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  12. Anything by Graeme Base was a huge hit in our house. The illustrations are some of the best!!

    Comment by Tammy | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  13. I have to agree about “Goodnight Moon”. I was given the book as a gift when my Son was a toddler, 20 some years ago, and it survived him and his younger, by seven years, sister. It was the only book I could stand to read over and over. Though I did do a lot of Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears and Little Critter in between.

    Comment by Sheri | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  14. My son is 24 and I’ve forgotten most of our favorites. I’ll take a look at the bookshelves tomorrow and maybe post again. We did read Is Your Mama a Llama every night for months and that was okay with me. I liked Napping House too. My trick for reading on nights when I was just too exhausted was to bring out a Richard Scarry book. We could point and name, count, look for colors or certain characters — whatever I could manage depending on my exhaustion.

    Comment by Jan | September 11, 2012 | Reply

  15. We love “Boy” by James Mayhew – out of print, but still gettable seconhand on Amazon. Also “Red is Best”, and “Guess How Much I Love You”. We could read those three over and over. Our all-time favourite, choose-the-one-book-to-take-to-a-desert-island book would be Terry Pratchett’s “Where’s My Cow?”. It has enough grown-up humour to make it bearable repeatedly!


    Comment by Angie | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  16. All the Alfie Atkins-books are great!

    Comment by Christina | September 13, 2012 | Reply

  17. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems is one my favorites. I read it MANY times to the little one I nanny for when she was small. There are also two more books in the series but the original is my favorite. Sandra Boyton is the best. EVER. Those books make me so happy. A Visitor for Bear (or any other bear book) by Bonny Becker is also great but wordy, you need a small one with an attention span for that one. I also love Karma Wilson’s books Bear Snores On, Bear wants more, etc. They are all GREAT.

    Comment by Brooke | September 13, 2012 | Reply


    Comment by Brooke | September 13, 2012 | Reply

  19. the perfect nest by catherine friend, she writes a good blog too x

    Comment by jenny uk | September 22, 2012 | Reply

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