Nica’s current top 10 books


These are our 5-year-old’s favorite books right now.


1. Little Red Riding Hood

Nica is going through a Little Red Riding Hood phase and dressed up as the Hood for Halloween (Ham dressed as the wolf). I searched for a long time to find the best version of the story, and this was my favorite, because the art and writing are so rich.


2. The Gruffalo

This is a clever story about a mouse who outsmarts all the predators that approach him. The rhyming makes it fun for reader and listener alike.


3. A First Book of Fairy Tales

Nica requests this book at bedtime when she wants to end the day with a fairy tale but doesn’t feel like listening to the long version—or if I tell her it’s late and we only have time for a short one. This collection includes many of the classics plus a couple of lesser-known ones. All of them are brief or extremely brief.


4. Frog and Toad Are Friends

Nica loves the Frog and Toad books. In this one, she especially likes the story called “Swim,” in which Toad gets ridiculed for wearing a corny bathing suit when swimming. It strikes that funny-sad chord with her. “Why are all the lizards so mean?” she asks. “Because lizards are assholes!” I want to say.


5. Miss Rumphius

When Miss Rumphius is a child, she promises her grandfather that she will help make the world a more beautiful place. As an adult, an injury keeps her from continuing her extensive travels, so she begins to plant lupines all over her seaside town. This book has made Nica very aware of lupines.


Nica scares easily. She can’t stand any kind of ride—even the carousel makes her nervous—and Party City’s Halloween section makes her cry. So, I am SHOCKED that she loves this book, because the art is pretty gnarly. In this version of the story, the giant is an ogre, and the author-illustrator did not hold back with the details. It’s very well done, writing- and art-wise. The language has an English flavor to it (as opposed to American, I mean).


7. I Want My Hat Back

Simple + hilarious = simply hilarious. Elicits crazy, goofy laughter from Nica. She will read it on her own, too, and crack herself up.


8. Everything but the Horse

This is a wonderful book with earnest writing and charming art. What girl can’t relate to becoming obsessed with horses? What I appreciate about this book is that it starts as a story of a little girl’s budding passion for horses, but really it turns out her passion is for speed, adventure, independence. (But Nica likes it for the passion-for-horses part.)


9. The Seven Silly Eaters

One of Nica’s all-time faves. A rhyming tale of a super-exhausted mother who toils to satisfy the monomaniacal cravings of each of her seven children. Fun to look at, fun to read. One aspect of the story that I find odd is that the father is totally marginalized and evidently only good for breeding. The mom in the story is so bogged down with children and housework, you really feel for her. Reading this book a lot could be an effective method of birth control.


10. Mouse Tales

Another one by Arnold Lobel (Frog and Toad). Nica and I both adore this book. It contains a bunch of very random little stories about mice. They are all funny in different ways, the funniest stories being very wacky and surprisingly absurd (in the best sense of the word).


Ham’s current top 10 books

These are the books Ham (19 mos) is constantly pestering me to read him really interested in these days.


1) Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

A classic. I am not a fan of Eric Carle’s art, myself, but clearly most people, especially kids, dig it. I love reading this one aloud—very fun. Ham is obsessed with this book right now and will “read” it to himself after I’ve read it to him four times in a row.


2) The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear

A beautifully illustrated, adorable little story about a mouse that is getting conned (by the reader!) into sharing a strawberry. Ham coos and squeals while I read this to him.


3) Tickle the Duck!

The appeal is obvious.


4) The Little Engine That Could

It’s not the positive message or the lovely story that Ham is after. There’s a small Humpty Dumpty that appears on several pages, and every time Ham points him out, I am to sing the Humpty Dumpty song. Here are two examples of Mr. Dumpty’s cameos:

Ham even noticed this one.


5) Kitten’s First Full Moon

Kitten mistakes the reflection of the moon on the water for a bowl of milk. Much hardship ensues. Ham really feels for the kitten and is thrilled for her when she gets her bowl of milk in the end. The art is so simple, bold and high-contrast, both my kids enjoyed this book even as infants.


6) When I Feel Sad

Are you trying to tell me something, Ham?


7) Goldilocks and the Three Bears

This version of the story doesn’t stray too far from the original, but the snappy writing and slick illustrations make it feel fresh—and very funny! I especially love the way Goldilocks is portrayed (as the brat that she is). Ham understands a lot of the story, surprisingly, and he thinks Goldilocks is a riot.


8) I Am a Bunny

I Am A Bunny Board Book

Simple and sweet descriptions of what Nicholas the bunny does during each season. The illustrations are typical Richard Scarry—darling and gorgeous. Ham loves pointing at the animals and learning their names. When reading this to the kids, I often get the urge to put on my manliest voice and say “I AM BUNNY.” “NO, I AM BUNNY!” “NO, I AM BUNNY.” But the kids wouldn’t get it. So, I resist the urge. It’s tough being a mother.


9) Chugga Chugga Choo Choo


Ham loves looking at the cool art and repeating the whoo-whoo and choo-choo sounds, but there is another perk for Ham: There is a Humpty Dumpty in this, too! I had no idea Mr. Dumpty liked to ride the rails so much.


10) Big Girls Use the Potty!

I don’t know where Ham found this, but this is one of the books I used to read to Nica when I was toilet-training her. Even though this book does not show a single toilet—only potties—Ham has gleaned that they’re basically the same thing. So, he has become fascinated by the toilet and keeps wanting to stick his hand in the bowl. Also, he now thinks that when his sister is on the can, it is a great time and place to socialize with her. I really gotta hide this book.

The three—er, two—little pigs

Both Ham (19 mos) and Nica (4) love the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Three Little Pigs Play Set. (I actually got this toy using Huggies Enjoy the Ride rewards points. If that offer still exists, this is a great item to get.)


The three houses are made of soft material (some kind of felt), and the pigs and wolf are made of plastic. This playset makes an ideal travel toy, since you can just smush the houses into a bag.

I sent away for this toy when Ham was a wee infant, so it was Nica who played with it first. I had just introduced her to the story of the three little pigs, using this book:


I’m not crazy about the art or the overall look of the book, but the story stays true to the original—or, at least, the version I know (pigs set out on their own; dumbest, laziest pig builds a straw house, the next one a stick house, then the engineer/architect/brainiac brother builds a brick house with working fireplace; wolf is able to blow down the first two houses but not the third; he tries to go down the chimney, but the pigs have already built a fire, which scorches the wolf, who runs away; we are left to assume that the first two pigs will now move in with the smart one and sponge off him—or maybe he’ll build an addition, but three brothers living together? Good luck finding dates, fellas).

Ham has been enjoying this playset ever since he got big enough to hold stuff and sit up on his own. He doesn’t understand the whole story, of course, but he does get that the pigs go into the houses and the wolf blows them down, which he finds hilarious. And when we go somewhere, he’ll want to take either the wolf or Pig No. 2 with him.

One day, we drove into Manhattan and spent the day in Central Park. Pig No. 2 came with us. When Ham got tired and cranky, I put him in his stroller and gave him the pig to hold, which appeased him.

That’s the last time we saw Pig No. 2. We didn’t realize we’d lost him until days later, when Nica needed him for a pretend game.

We miss Pig No. 2. Ham hasn’t taken to Pig No. 1 or No. 3 the way he did to 2, for some reason. So, now he only has the wolf to hold.

Needless to say, Nica misses No. 2 when she wants to reenact the Three Little Pigs story. It just isn’t the same with substitutes.


I asked Nica what she thought happened to Pig No. 2. To my surprise, she had an answer ready.
“He fell out of Ham’s stroller, because Ham WAS NOT CAREFUL and DROPPED HIM. He rolled and rolled away from us. He was scared at first, because Central Park is very, very big and he couldn’t see us anymore. He probably cried a little bit.”
“Oh, no.”
“No, Mommy, don’t be sad. A friendly dog carried him in his mouth without hurting him. He took Pig No. 2 to the road, and someone opened their car door and took him. A nice little girl.”
“Oh, so he’s not in the park anymore?”
“No. Someone’s playing with him in the car.”
“He lives in a car now?”
“Yeah. Let’s call that car a car-house!”

I gotta say, I’m saddened by the thought that Pig No. 2 is living in a car now. Oh, fickle finger of fate!