The Pout-Pout Fish, The Three Ninja Pigs and more

These are five of my all-time favorite children’s books that are appropriate for older toddlers through preschoolers:

The Pout-Pout Fish - by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna

I love The Pout-Pout Fish; it’s absolutely adorable, with bright and colorful illustrations. My son came home from preschool one day talking about the book and a week later I saw it on sale at Target, so of course I snatched it right up! I will accept any reason, however insignificant, to buy a book. I discovered later that it became a New York Times Bestseller in its first year. The Pout Pout Fish is a board book but more appropriate for older toddlers and preschoolers (even kindergarteners) because of its length and complex language. The story is simple: an ever-gloomy pout-pout fish is beseeched by other sea creatures to try to be cheerful and at least attempt optimism, but the fish keeps insisting that his nature demands that he remain miserable. Soon enough, however, the smooch of a sleek silver fish convinces him otherwise. Yes, parents, there is some fish-kissing in this book, but it’s innocent, and not too graphic. I find the pout-pout fish’s melodramatic melancholy to be quite comical, and my son loves the engaging rhyme and rhythm of the language. Parents will also appreciate the sophisticated vocabulary made child-accessible by the rhyme and rhythm. I like this book so much I’m constantly giving it as birthday and Christmas gifts. The Pout Pout Fish Goes to School is a great follow-up to the original; I liked it just as much. 


Is There Really a Human Race? - by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell 

I discovered Is There Really a Human Race? before my three-year-old was even born and it immediately became my go-to gift book for everyone with kids, including parents-to-be and new parents. I am always wary of children’s books written by celebrities but I was drawn to the title and vibrantly-colored cover of this book. I am so glad that I made this exception; Is There Really a Human Race? is both a clever criticism of and a satisfying antidote to our fast-paced, comparison-consumed, ego-driven society (not to be a downer). All of this and it’s also a lovely children’s book!  The narrator is a boy sitting on a bench with his mother and pondering the meaning of the phrase “the human race.” Adorably, he thinks that it’s a giant world-wide running race and he is anxious about his participation in it. His musings about winning and losing, making wrong turns, and enjoying the sights along the way are accompanied by finely-detailed illustrations that are hilarious, actually, for adult-readers. The book illustrates the “winning isn’t everything” theme in a sweet and palatable way that won’t make you smirk or roll your eyes, even if you are the head coach of your child’s championship-winning T-ball team. Because it reads quickly and the illustrations are big and bright, the book is great for older toddlers, but its content and message make it even better for preschoolers and young elementary school kids. 


The Gruffalo - by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler 

The Gruffalo is an entertainingly silly story and not at all overtly educational, but it is a delight to read aloud. I have read three of Julia Donaldson’s children’s books (The Snail and the Whale and Room on the Broom) and I love all three, particularly because she’s a whiz at maintaining pleasing and perfect rhyme and rhythm while also telling a substantial story. The Gruffalo flows so smoothly and musically that sometimes I find myself rapping the text, much to the bemusement of my son and husband (yes, I meant “bemusement” and not “amusement”; they are certainly not amused ). Until recently I couldn’t put my finger on why the rhythm felt so familiar and then BAM! – it hit me like a sledgehammer. The rhyme and rhythm recall the theme song to “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, so of course now I love reading (i.e., rapping) the book even more!  This story is also simple: while taking a walk through a wood, a tiny mouse meets several larger animals that want to, um, eat it. The mouse uses its smarts to intimidate the hungry animals by inventing an imaginary beast called a gruffalo. But lo and behold, it turns out that the gruffalo does exist, and now the mouse has to be even smarter to keep itself from becoming lunch. Don’t worry; it’s not as “survival of the fittest” as it sounds. This book is a worthy addition to the library of any older toddler, preschooler, or early elementary school kid. 


The Three Ninja Pigs- by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat

I happened upon The Three Ninja Pigs in the return cart at Cedar Park Public Library and picked it up because it purported to have animals and martial arts, two winning topics with my three-year-old son.  I wasn’t expecting much but was pleasantly surprised by the clever language and the unique adaptation of the beloved The Three Little Pigs (I learned that technically, it’s a “fractured fairy tale”). The story, told through witty rhymes and a lilting rhythm reminiscent of Mother Goose favorites, is great for preschoolers and early elementary school kids.

For the sake of the adults, the author has incorporated some witty puns and comical slang that caused me to laugh aloud. The slang is child-friendly with the possible exception of one line in which a pig says: “Stay out of my hut or I’ll kick your big butt.” I wasn’t thrilled about exposing my son to the expression but I liked the book enough to forgive the author his one “vulgarity”. Along with the language I like how the story subtly encourages the traits of discipline and perseverance, for the pig that actually completes her training, while the other two give up or slack off, is the one who defeats the wolf. 


There’s No Place Like Space! - by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Aristides Ruiz 

I have a conflicted relationship with Dr. Seuss books. I loved the pint-sized board books we read when my son was a baby and toddler, but when we graduated to the hardcover paper books, well, I started to fall out of love. Truth be told (though it feels sacrilegious to admit), I really don’t like reading The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. They’re long-winded and full of nonsense words and sentences, which I know is part of the appeal of Dr. Seuss, but I’m not into it. I can tolerate Green Eggs and Ham, but the inundating repetition makes me a little crazy. But then I discovered There’s No Place Like Space! and I was sold! It’s from a series called “The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library” and it’s great! It rhymes flawlessly, is colorful, and stars the beloved characters from The Cat in the Hat (who doesn’t love Thing One and Thing Two?), but it is not full of nonsense. On the contrary, it is full of basic but interesting facts about the sun, moon, planets, and constellations. It’s definitely educational but in a fun, sing-songy way, and the facts have actually stuck with my son! We also love Oh Say Can You Say Di-No-Saur? and On Beyond Bugs! There are countless books in this series and most likely one for any topic that most interests your kid. This series is great for preschoolers and elementary school kids.

I’d love to hear about the books that you and your kids love to read. Please comment below and you may just see a review about one of your kids' favorite books! 

Ami Gandhi