Beyond Picture Books

A friend stumped me recently. She said her 3yo was able and interested to listen to longer books and ones without pictures. She didn’t care for the Pooh books because she felt they were too violent, but they had read and enjoyed Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. Since she knows I’m a bibliophile, she asked my advice for other chapter books that would be good for a 3yo, yet not violent.

First, I had to get my head around her complaint that the Milne books were violent. I consider myself a pretty aware reader, yet that adjective had not occurred to me during any of the many readings we’ve done of that book in our house. Yet my friend isn’t wrong. Christopher Robin has a toy gun with which he (accidentally) shoots Pooh, the animals kidnap (joeynap?) Roo when he and Kanga move to the forest, and Tigger bounces Eeyore into the river. These are just the examples I can think of off the top of my head. I’m not going to stop reading Pooh, because I cherish the humor and sweetness of the stories, as well as the childish roughness, though my friend terms it violence, inherent in play.

Still, though, it took me some time to come up with even a few suggestions, and neither were without pictures. I recommended DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson chapter books, which are fun and silly, as well as longer picture books like Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts.

Other books that occurred to me later were the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt by Patricia MacLachlan, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. These are ones that I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed. I worked for a year in the children’s section of a large used bookstore, and I became familiar with some of the other popular titles and series, though I haven’t (yet) read them myself that might be good candidates: Stuart Little by E.B. White, The Magic Tree House series, and the Junie B. Jones series.

But what was most interesting to me was the number of books I thought of that had immediate difficulties. The Narnia, George MacDonald, and Tolkien books are violent, as are DiCamillo’s more recent novels. Charlotte’s Web has an ending that must be discussed, which would be tough with someone only three. After further thought, I still think picture books are the best fit. Just because a child CAN sit through a book without pictures doesn’t mean picture books should be left behind. They’re one of the best things about childhood, in my opinion, and their experience should be drawn out and savored.

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