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Preschoolers’ life lessons

The ways of the world can be mysterious for preschoolers; it always helps to have a laugh. The following picture books teach age-appropriate life lessons without losing their sense of humor.

In People Don’t Bite People, Lisa Wheeler enumerates (in subversively lilting rhymed verse) the reasons “people don’t bite people” and suggests alternatives: “It’s good to bite a biscuit. / It’s good to bite a plum. / It’s BAD to bite your brother. / He’s not a piece of gum.” The humorous text is all fun and games, but the underlying message about anger management is useful. Molly Idle‘s dynamic colored-pencil illustrations use many of her familiar poses from her Flora books, both graceful (the mail carrier could moonlight with the ballet) and petulant (a tea-party tiff recalls Flora and all of her avian friends at one point or another). (Atheneum, 2–5 years)

In Goldilocks and the Just Right Potty by Leigh Hodgkinson, young Goldilocks knows what she does and doesn’t like when it comes to potty training. “She needed underwear that was not too frilly. She needed underwear that was not too silly. She needed underwear that was just right!” Same goes for selecting a potty, not too big (um, a rain boot), not too small (a tea-party cup — thankfully not!). Accidents are inevitable, but she finally accomplishes her goal. The neatly patterned pictures contain some cute visual nods to the classic “Goldilocks” tale. (Candlewick/Nosy Crow, 2–5 years)

A mother duck waddles onto a bridge, followed by her five ducklings, in Ducks Away! One by one, the ducklings fall into the river, as the mother duck agonizes: “What should I do? Where should I go, with [four/three/two] on the bridge and one below?” Mem Fox’s text and Judy Horacek’s art work together beautifully: the text is brief but dramatic (exclamation marks are used to perfection), and each time a number is mentioned, it is highlighted in orange. Preschoolers will hardly notice that they are learning addition and subtraction, so taken will they be by the dithering of the hapless mother and the topplings of the ducklings. (Scholastic, 2–5 years)

In Matt Phelan’s Pignic, seven pigs embark on their version of a picnic (a “pignic”), oblivious to the wolf behind them. The story is nicely unpredictable; for instance, when the wolf creeps up to three of the pigs trying to fly a kite, we might think we know where this is going (“Uh-oh”), but the wolf proceeds to “huff and puff” the kite off the ground. And when the weather takes a dark and stormy turn — all the better to splash in the mud. The adorable, happily filthy little pigs return home at sunset, the perfect way to end a pignic. (Greenwillow, 2–5 years)

From the April 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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