If you are spending your summer in the Middle East, you will be spending a lot of time inside. I want to share our family’s favorite children’s picture books that may keep your little ones occupied.
When I became a parent I hoped that my children would learn to love reading as much as I do. I have learned that my children are their own person and they do not have to share my interests. So, I just share good literature with them and each of them enjoys reading in their own way.
I have an aversion to educational picture books for children. There are very few good and interesting ones and hundreds of bad ones. Why read books about numbers and colors when you can travel the world having wonderful adventures? I believe children will learn their numbers, colors, and shapes by engaging in everyday family life.
Good books develop our creativity and imagination. They provide us solace when we are sad, excitement when we are bored, energy when we are tired, calm when we are anxious, and a safe way to explore the darker side of life. Learning that the square is red and the triangle is yellow can never do that.
Let’s start our journey into great books that have inspired our family.
Lotta’s Bike by Astrid Lindgren (original title Visst kan Lotta cycla)
Lotta is a feisty little girl who does not always choose wisely. She wants to be as capable as her older siblings and refuses to accept the fact that she is only five. Lotta is determined to prove others wrong and comes up with quite a plan.
Lotta has good adults in her life who treat her with kindness and respect. Children need safety in their lives and that safety is created by adults. Children who are determined and courageous like Lotta will get far in this world if they have adults to gently guide them.
This was one of my favorite picture books as a child. I lost the book somewhere along the way but when I became a parent it was one of the first books I bought. I suspect I enjoyed reading the book more than my children did. Ilon Wikland’s colorful and detailed illustrations take you straight into Lotta’s world.
This book has also been published under the title, Of course, Polly Can Ride a Bike.
The Seven Wonders of Mr. Clutterbuck by Mauri Kunnas (original title Herra Hakkaraisen seitsemän ihmettä)
Mr. Clutterbuck is a quiet goat who unknowingly has adventures when sleepwalking. In this book, Mr. Clutterbuck visits the Seven Wonders of the World. He sleeps through the day and misses the tours but visits the sites while sleepwalking. He wreaks havoc as he goes and never finds out about his adventures.
The kind and introverted protagonist has a life far more eventful and exciting than he realizes. This is a funny and beautifully illustrated book that introduces children to the Seven Wonders of the World.
I highly recommend other books by Mauri Kunnas as well. Kunnas’s illustrations tell the story as much as the words do.
Mama Moo on a Swing by Jujja and Tomas Wieslander (original title Mamma Mu gungar)
Mama Moo is an unstoppable cow. When she decides to do something, no matter how difficult or unusual it is, especially for a cow, she does it. Her best friend Crow has a very different perspective on life. He is a pessimist and opposes all of Mama Moo’s plans. He does not think her ideas can happen. Secretly, however, Crow enjoys Mama Moo’s courage and curiosity. The beauty of the story is how unflappable Mama Moo is. She does not get discouraged by Crow’s pessimism, nor does she get angry with him.
There are several other books in the Mama Moo series. My personal favorite is when Mama moo builds a treehouse. The detailed illustrations are by Sven Norqvist. They bring movement to the story.
The Cow Who Fell in the Canal by Phyllis Krasilovsky
In the second picture book about a cow, this time a bored Dutch cow called Hendrika, the protagonist ends up on quite a trip as she steps on a raft and floats into town. Hendrika has never been to town but has heard about it. Finally, she gets to see the town for herself. At the end of her adventure, she is happy to return home. She has a lot to think about and feels content.
Peter Spier has drawn the beautiful pictures that depict Hendrika’s trip to a quaint Dutch town.
Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry
I loved Richard Scarry’s books as a child. The stories of everyday life are safe but they are never boring. You do not get tired of looking at Richard Scarry’s humorous illustrations. There is always some detail you missed the last time you read or looked at the book.
I believe it is important to give young children tools in how to slow down, ground themselves and take a break. Scarry’s books are great for a child who needs to calm down and sit quietly for a moment. Even if they cannot read they can enjoy the stories by looking at the pictures. Kunnas’s drawings are similar to Scarry’s in that they hold a child’s attention.
Reading with your baby and child
When you tell your baby and child a story or read them a book you create a shared moment. It is a safe place for your child to learn about the world, learn language, learn to listen, and develop their memory skills.
Read to your child and you will be taking them on wonderful adventures that will nourish them forever.
If you need reading suggestions for older children, have a look at this list from BookTrust.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.