The Children’s Books You’ll Want to Read Again and Again
Randall de Sève believes that reading with your child doesn’t have to be a selfless act—that sharing kids books should be enjoyable for adults, too. She’s excited to recommend some of her favorites in this column, along with fun, story-based activities to go with them.
Every morning before school starts, my 8-year-old and I cuddle up in the library for 10 minutes or so, and I read her a book. She can choose anything, which is why it surprised me today when she made a beeline for the early reader section. You know, those often dreary “controlled vocabulary” stories that boost your kid’s ego and go in the giveaway pile as soon as she can actually read. What could be so interesting there?
“I love these books!” my daughter exclaimed, pulling several Mr. Putter and Tabby (Harcourt Children’s Books) titles off the shelf. And that, my friends, is your answer.
Each of these 22 titles by Newberry Award winner Cynthia Rylant is everything you want not only in an early reader, but in any picture book. They’re charming, funny, cleverly written (sure, words and phrases repeat, but with intentional rhythm that advances the story) and, most of all, they have a ton of heart.
So even though your child may be able to read them on his own, you probably won’t let him. Because you will love the aptly-named Mr. Putter and his old cat, Tabby, who—like her human—adores flowers, a cup of tea, and a good, long nap. You will also love his dotty neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry and “her good dog, Zeke.” Simply put, you will adore these tales and their whimsical, expressive illustrations that turn even the most mundane elder moments into zany adventures.
Here are some of my favorites, from the big stack our school’s librarians generously loaned us:
Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch: Porch painting becomes a splatter-fest when a squirrel wakes Tabby and she remembers “how good she was at chasing things.”
Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn: Mr. Putter and Mrs. Teaberry’s band becomes a one-woman mandolin act, “Plucking Without Putter,” when our hero realizes he’s “a very bad tooter. The worst.”
Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears: Pear-picking becomes “jiffy”-handed apple slinging when Mr. Putter can’t get up his ladder because “this year he had cranky legs, cranky knees, cranky feet.”
And now, in Mr. Putter and Tabby Drop the Ball, a baseball game with the super-senior “Yankee Doodle Dandies” hinges on our newly-sporty hero’s bending those cranky knees—or does it?
Last Christmas, we bought a pile of Putters for my father, a world-class putterer himself, to share with his grandkids. It’s hard to get a gift for my dad, a man of simple tastes. But these books—and the cuddle time that ensued—were just as big a hit as the “light and airy” Christmas cake Mr. Putter stays up all night baking for Mrs. Teaberry in Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake. And then, because “old people can do anything they want,” Mr. Putter—and my dad—napped.
Randall de Sève is the author of New York Times bestseller Toy Boat, The Duchess of Whimsy, Mathilda and the Orange Balloon, and Peanut and Fifi Have a Ball. She also spent many happy years teaching young children in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and a very wicked dog named Henry Biscuit. You can contact Randall at her website.