Keep Kids Busy and Safe: Book Stash for Preschool and Elementary Readers

Family units are spending a lot more quality time together as we practice social distancing. Since in-person book store browsing is (or will soon be) off-limits and now that the libraries are closed, finding new books can be more challenging. However, local bookstores are taking orders and providing mailing and curbside pickup. Watchung Booksellers is taking online, text, and email orders. Curbside or “takeout” orders are available, as is deliveryMontclair Book Center’s hours and policies are listed here. In addition, consider some fun activity and sticker books to pass the time! East Side Mags is also offering remote ordering and curbside pickup for comic book and graphic novel needs.

To help prompt growth in your book stash, and to support local businesses, we’ve collected some fiction and non-fiction suggestions for your preschool and elementary age children that will entertain and educate, including your reluctant readers.

Preschool Books

FUTURE ENGINEER by Lori Alexander and illustrated by Allison Black is the second in the lovely Future Baby Series. Like Future Astronaut, the board book juxtaposes grown-up engineers with babies playing to compare their similar traits. “Engineers as questions” is met with an adorable image of a baby asking “Why? Why? Why?” And then, “Engineers draw their ideas on paper and computers” is depicted opposite “Baby draws on paper. And other places, too.” The baby, by the way, is scribbling on the wall with a very happy smile on their face.

IN THE OCEAN by Natalie Marshall is a slide & surprise board book for ages 3-5. Packed with color and joyful sea creatures, every page holds a secret to discover. The tabs are sturdy and easy to pull, giving little fingers plenty of chances for tactile practice. The text is made up mainly of questions that are answered by pulling the tabs: Who is hiding in the coral? Where are seal’s friends? Each page also has a fun fact about various animals. Did you know that all squids have three hearts? They do!

MR. NOGGINBODY GETS A HAMMER by David Shannon, the author of the beloved “David” books, has created an odd little book about an egg-shaped man who thinks he has discovered a way to fix every problem – a hammer.  The picture book follows our naïve hero as he finds early success that becomes destructive enthusiasm. Mr. Nogginbody briefly lives out the proverb, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Once again, Shannon’s talent at channeling toddler behavior onto the page is both disconcerting and loveable.

ONE LITTLE BAG by Henry Cole: A modern environmental folktale with a very down-to-earth message, this picture book conveys a heartfelt story wordlessly. The detailed black and white drawings are highlighted with brown and red splashes of color focused on the titular bag and the hearts drawn on it. The 4-8 year old target audience will be able to “tell” their own stories based on the pictures, and older readers will delve deeper into the environmental and family messages within. The book follows a plain paper bag as it is reused over a young boy’s lifetime. While a certain suspension of disbelief is needed, the story is heartwarming and just lovely.

LISTEN by Holly M. McGhee is a gentle, sweet book that leads readers towards empathy by reminding us all to slowly take in our surroundings and revel in our connectedness. Aimed at ages 4-7, it will work for slightly younger and much older children and adults as a tool for meditation and calm. The repetitive structure and relaxed pace serve the picture book’s purpose in encouraging living in the moment and listening to our hearts – and observing with all our senses. The lovely illustrations by Pascal Lemaitre are at once detailed and simple; they suit the story perfectly.

THE PERFECT DOG by John O’Hurley is a delight. Illustrated with funny and adorable and laugh out loud funny photographs of all sorts of dogs, the poem O’Hurley presents, with each line opposite an applicable photo, answers his son’s question, “Is there a dog that is perfect?” This little book is a joy that families will repeatedly return to for laughs and comfort.

Elementary Age Books

IF ELEPHANTS DISAPPEARED by Lily Williams is the third in the “If…Disappeared” books, and its precise but simple approach to explaining the vital influence one species can have is both effective and heartbreakingly beautiful. Readers follow two children who act as guides through the Congo Basin Forest and who react to the information about Elephants as a keystone species. The author uses kid-friendly scenes and pictures to convey the lifestyle and importance of elephants to their ecosystem. With expressive and detailed illustrations in rich, deep color, we see elephants walk through forests, and through paneled pages we see the effect of elephants disappearing on the density of the forest. The text, set in short paragraphs on each page informs readers about the evolution and current influence elephants have. While Williams tackles complex ideas, the language is direct and accessible, especially combined with the images.

BETWEEN US AND ABUELA by Mitali Perkins depicts the hardship of distance between family members set against the backdrop of the annual Christmastime tradition of La Posada Sin Fronteras. During this time, family members in the USA and Mexico can visit for 30 minutes, albeit separated by high fencing. Told with a hopeful air of anticipation, this picture book provides both an introduction to the issues surrounding distant families and the belief that humanity can prevail.

ALIENS AMONG US by Daniel Kariko is a must-have for any child (or adult!) who is fascinated with or horrified by bugs. Its juxtaposition of basic bug information including a black and white sketch and an up-close and detailed color photograph creates a thrilling effect. The vocabulary is not simplified for young children, but the descriptions are concise and clear enough that interested readers are able to pick up meanings for “exoskeleton,” “formidable,” and “resonance chamber.” In fact, most of the text, written by Tim Christensen, is very accessible despite the technical names and examples of “anticoagulants” being spit into wounds. Seriously, bug-loving kids are going to love this book!

THE TRUTH ABOUT HAWKS by Maxwell Eaton III starts with a surprise, and it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to how hawks get their meals, as the rabbit who begins the book learns. But the surprise to most readers will be that eagles are actually hawks. Joining them are kites, harriers, and over 200 other types of birds. Readers are presented with features shared by hawks, hunting patterns, and meal preferences. Did you know that golden eagles can knock sheep off cliffs in order to kill and eat them? Or that apple snails are the favorite of some kites? Gourmands of the sky!

BUG BOYS follows two best friends, Rhino-B and Stag-B, on their youthful adventures and personal dramas. The graphic novel is ideal for reluctant readers because its chapters are actually short, action-packed episodes. The Bug Boys do very silly things but also share authentic feelings, including anger and sadness. The language is accessible without feeling over-simplified, and the pictures are just this side of goofy and sweet.

PLASTIC SUCKS! by Dougie Poynter acknowledges climate change and the effects humans have on its rise, then it follows up with small and large impacts individuals can have every day. The book is divided into sections that explain what plastic is, how it affects daily life (in good and bad ways), what types of plastic are the worst offenders, and what each of us can do to minimize impacts on the future of the environment. Scientific information is condensed into digestible sections that don’t overwhelm or condescend. There are also “Meet the Experts” interviews with various environmental activists and scientists throughout the book. This informative, realistic, and energetic book makes sure to emphasize the gravity of how plastic affects our eco-system in all ways even as it infuses every page with optimism and ownership of making a positive difference.

THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS by Johan Troianowski is whimsical fun with beautifully vibrant colors and a fearless main character in Princess Robin, the titular princess.  The book is made up of three separate tales featuring inventive characters and barreling storylines that highlight precociousness and optimism. A particularly fun feature is the inclusion of interactive pages that ask the reader to complete puzzles to “help” Princess Robin with her adventures. The character illustrations boldly convey a wide range of emotions and reflect an impressive creativity and delight in their interactions.

Want more suggestions? Check out our past round-ups (promoting empathy) (for Black History Month) (to enhance summer reading).

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