Modern toddler stories? My google foo is top-notch but I am frustrated with what's out there.
May 4, 2012 1:30 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for simple, modern stories to tell my toddler. I am disappointed with what I am finding online and at book stores, mostly because it is so hopelessly outdated and/or un-relatable. I don't want stories about farm animals, or centuries-old fables written in ye olden english, or nonsensical babble that rhymes but makes little sense otherwise, or "stories" that are not stories at all but rather pictures that you point at to name colors, numbers, etc (we've already mastered those). Any recommendations on stories that a toddler can relate to, and perhaps learn a lesson or two?
posted by rada to Education (35 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a children's librarian and mother. Most toddlers like Caillou and after they age out of him they move to Robert Munch.
posted by saucysault at 1:32 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's an extensive collection of timeless toddler books featuring Muppets (of the show or Sesame Street variety). They're timeless, and all toddlers love Muppets.
posted by thanotopsis at 1:33 PM on May 4, 2012

Oh, and public libraries usually have books that have been specifically selected for quality, rather than the paid product placement online and in bookshops. Ask your local librarian!
posted by saucysault at 1:34 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Toddlers have been relating to those stories for decades, or in some cases, centuries. The basic lessons the kids are getting from the stories are timeless. You may learn to hate the stories, I certainly did with some, but that doesn't mean they aren't still good for toddlers.

Or, Barney and Veggie Tales have hundreds of simple, toddler friendly books available.
posted by COD at 1:39 PM on May 4, 2012

"The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales" (and many other books by Jon Scieszka) might be what you're looking for.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:50 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Richard Scary books including his A Story A Day or "Best Story Book ever"?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:50 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mo Willems is king. His Pigeon books seem to be the most popular, but I prefer Knuffle Bunny etc. and the Elephant and Piggie series. This last one is great for exploring comic sensibilities and timing, emotions, and wonderful for learning how text and word/thought bubbles work.

But by all means, do take advantage of your local public librarian's expertise.
posted by Knicke at 1:52 PM on May 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Caillou is a great suggestion - very literal, short, real-world stories with beginning, middle, end and basically everyone behaves nicely.

The Biscuit series are also good for that - a puppy who has short real-world adventures with beginning, middle and end.

Curious George books are good too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:54 PM on May 4, 2012

Ask your librarian! I am a librarian, but I am not your a librarian for young kids, but I'll recommend these:

- Mo Willem's "Pigeon" books ("Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus," etc.) are just about perfect read-alouds. (On preview, Knicke, I agree with you but I think the Pigeon books work the best with very young kids.)

-Chris Raschka has a ton of great ones -- "A Ball For Daisy" is his latest. It's wordless but I find that wordless stories can still make great read-together books.

-Some of Kevin Henkes's books are more appropriate for slightly older kids, but "Old Bear" and "A Good Day" might work well.

-Lois Ehlert's picture books

-Leo Lionni is SO GREAT, if you don't mind that the politics are a little left-wing (subtly!)

-Speaking of left-wing politics, "Click Clack Moo". OK, it's a barnyard animal story. Whatever. I'm recommending it.

-"I Want My Hat Back" depending on your toddler's sense of humor and tolerance for violence.
posted by Jeanne at 1:55 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you asked for "modern" and the book I am going to suggest is now available in a 50th anniversary edition, but I believe The Snowy Day is timeless.
posted by ambrosia at 1:55 PM on May 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

Lane Smith, the Happy Hockey Family, Seen Art? and the Stinky Cheese Man, listed above.

Also, A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea by Michael Ian Black.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:57 PM on May 4, 2012

Ezra Jack Keats books are also good, and they take place in a city with no farm animals.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:58 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

And if you're looking for stories that illustrate things that happen in a kid's life (my first haircut, my first doctor visit, etc), Joanna Cole has a nice series of those.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:03 PM on May 4, 2012

Byron Barton's board books (Planes, Trains, Trucks) are terrific - my daughter (3) loves them. Bit there are SO MANY others. Hit any book store and browse. Other faves are Good Night Construction Site, Curious George, Dr Suess, "Miffy the Artist" (about modern art) and a book called "My Place in Space," about planets. We also still get some mileage out of Sandra Boyntons books despite being about farm animals essentially.
posted by nkknkk at 2:12 PM on May 4, 2012

Is your kid old enough for the Berenstain Bears?

Also, how about the Winnie-the-Pooh books?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:15 PM on May 4, 2012

Snowy Day is a picture book that's super adorable.

Rosa is a good book for a 3 year old -- it's about Rosa Parks.

My Body Belongs to Me
is pretty fabulous.

Margaret and Margarita is really fun -- it's about friendship!

When Lions Could Fly is a great collection of African folk tales.

Happy to be Nappy has some great pictures.
posted by spunweb at 2:23 PM on May 4, 2012

M.K. Brown Mr Sillypants books, Maurice Sendak Nutshell Library, Aunt Pitty Patty's Piggy, William Steig, some of my four year old's favorites. Maybe not modern, but very good.
posted by Kazimirovna at 2:27 PM on May 4, 2012

Have you read Where the Wild Things Are lately? Nearly 50 years old but it feels like it could have been written last week. It is so modern and so elegant to me. Bonus: no farm animals, just WILD ones.

I also like the Lyle, Lyle Crocodile series. The drawings are so great. Also not exactly a farm animal?
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:29 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Realise that a lot of toddler/kids books use animals as characters to avoid the "there are/are not people of color/not color in my kid's book!" activists. Please do not "throw out" stories just because they have animals in them or they're old . A story is a story, whether the main character is a cow or a dinosaur or a stuffed bear or a kid.

Harold and the purple crayon and Danny & the Dinosaur are still good stories. Corduroy is a teddy bear who goes on city adventures.

My kids liked Richard Scarry, Sandra Boynton, Maisie Mouse (before she went on TV), Dr Seuss's "Bright and Early" readers.

Ask your local children's librarian, or an independent bookstore.
posted by jlkr at 2:40 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ian Falconer's "Olivia" books are simple, sophisticated and delightful (and have a slightly dark edge).
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:40 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've read chapter 3 of 'The Grapes of Wrath' to my children since they were toddlers. They loved hearing about the turtle crossing the road, no pictures needed. Once they were older and could read, they still asked me to read it to them. This would lead to discussions on God's plan and the magnificence of nature.

As far as children's books go, Leo Leoni's books are beautiful and lyrical. Nothing wrong with a little poetry.
posted by myselfasme at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

David Weisner's "Flotsam" has been a favorite with my kids. So has Chris Van Allsburg's "Two Bad Ants," Graham Base's "Animalia," and Adam Rex's absolutely charming "Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich" and "Frankenstein Takes the Cake." Each of these authors has other works and I encourage you to check them out, but these books in particular are witty, visually interesting and guaranteed not to make you insane on the 50th read.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:48 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

it's a book by lane smith
I want my hat back

But both are pretty dark and require a certain sense of humor
posted by Calicatt at 3:13 PM on May 4, 2012

Maira Kalman's books are great for this. I especially love "Next Stop Grand Central," but it might not have enough plot to meet your needs.

Click Clack Moo and Dogzilla are other favorites here, and definitely modern (though they do include farm animals).
posted by Mchelly at 3:23 PM on May 4, 2012

Try Owl moon by Jane Yolen.
posted by spbmp at 7:44 PM on May 4, 2012

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed


And if you like those Willems and McDonnell have written lots of other books.
posted by MasonDixon at 8:19 PM on May 4, 2012

The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Counting and metamorphosis.
posted by kjs4 at 8:28 PM on May 4, 2012

So...we collect Caldecott's, which have amazingly seemed to hold up to the test of time. Maybe some of these will make you feel better. Not all of them are Caldecott's.

My 2 year old daughter's favorites have been:

Goodnight Moon (I don't get it, but she loves it)
A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Hey, Al
The Snowy Day
Madeline's Rescue
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
All The World

I will say that I have found that my daughter responds to stories I didn't realize she would, some of which I do not like at all, like something called Dixies day at the Farm, about a puppy running around a farm which is terribly written and illustrated. But, you know what, if it makes her excited about a book or reading, then I'll tolerate it.
posted by fyrebelley at 10:56 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

At that age, my kid loved, and I was happy to read:

Goodnight Gorilla (has virtually no words, but is a really delightful, quiet book)
Where the Wild Things Are
In the Night Kitchen (bonus naked toddler, always good for a giggle)
The Nutshell Library
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type (has farm animals, but they go on strike; more George Orwell than Old McDonald.)
The Paper Bag Princess
Harold and the Purple Crayon

Anything Dr Seuss! Especially Ten Apples Up On Top! which was my favourite as a kid
Inside Outside Upside Down (but don't be lulled into buying any of the contemporary Berenstain Bears books, because they are abysmal)

She also loved the Mole Sisters and Five Little Monkeys, though I was less enthusiastic.

There were also a whole bunch of more contemporary books, but honestly most of them were forgettable. There really is something to the classics; made me appreciate how hard it is to write a really good children's book.
posted by looli at 11:40 PM on May 4, 2012

Toddlers - well our anyway - love Lydia Monks
posted by mattoxic at 2:26 AM on May 5, 2012

Best answer: The HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics is first-rate, a great collection with no filler dreck, nothing edited out. Classics, yes, but modern ones. William Steig is a personal favourite.

A touch hard to find in the US, perhaps, but I am really impressed with a UK series from "Oxford Reading Tree." has some previews. I was particularly enchanted by the First Experiences series, which are modern, and carefully written stories that really grok small children.

Lost teddy stories are very meaningful here (where we tend to anthropomorphize too much) -- here's Oxford's take and Elmer and the Lost Teddy is very sweet.

Nthing asking your local children's librarian. And avoiding stuff where you can buy the characters -- admittedly this is a tall order nowadays when even Maurice Sendak's monsters have been set out for sale, but just steering clear of the written-by-computer/committee "TV Character X's Busy Day" dross will help keep the quality up. Occasionally a gem lurks in that genre, but mostly...not.
posted by kmennie at 4:41 AM on May 5, 2012

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers is along the same lines as It's A Book by Smith and I Want My Hat Back by whoever it is (Jon something,) - similar humour, great for reading aloud and fun language.

I do agree on the violence for I Want My Hat Back though. When it first came out I read it to my two year old daughter and when we got to the page with the realisation, she leaned overe, shut the book and told me to stop reading. She thinks it's great now (we bought it anyway, for the future) but she was not keen on it at first. She love Wolves In The Walls by Neil Gaiman too, but also has nightmares and freaks out about it, so we ration her exposure.

I imagine she'll be a horror movie fan when she's older.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:20 AM on May 5, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your suggestions! As a shortcut for others, I'd like to list a few winners.

The Oxford Owl is my personal favorite (thanks @kmennie). Great story lines that any modern toddler can relate to.

Joanna Cole (Sharing Is Fun etc, thanks @LobsterMitten) and Byron Barton (Airport etc, thanks @nkknkk) are just as great. Second place only because The Oxford Owl above is a free, superbly-executed online reader, with bonus audio and easy-to-follow activities.

Lastly, thank you to the librarians for pointing out the obvious. Didn't think of libraries for kids' books, duh. Putting Grandma to work as we speak :)
posted by rada at 12:34 PM on May 8, 2012

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