Favorite Picture Books About Communication

Eliza Clark
March 13, 2010

Communication between parents and children is constant, but it's not always of the kind we most wish to have. The practicalities of daily life often call for a lot of commands, not to mention reprimands, and on a bad day these can form the bulk of what we say to our children. (Ugh!) That is yet another reason to make plenty of time for reading together. Reading is always a cozy time that brings parents and children close - and even more so with stories whose theme is communication. Below we suggest a few enjoyable picture books that can jump-start interesting conversations and deeper connection with our young children.  

A Hole Is To Dig: A First Book of First Definitions by Ruth Krauss, Pictures by Maurice Sendak
One of the wonderful and funny things about talking with very young kids is discovering how they understand the thousands and thousands of words they hear every day.  Ruth Krauss's great innovation as a children's book author was to listen closely to how children talk.  She worked with nursery school children in the 1940s and 50s to generate this classic book of "first definitions," and it is a true, overlooked gem.  You and your young wordsmiths will be charmed and moved by the little pronouncements that fill these pages, such as "A party is to make little children happy" and "The sun is to tell you when it's every day."  And Maurice Sendak's pictures are, of course, delightful.  What a fun way to open a discussion about the meaning of words!

Caps For Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business by Esphyr Slobodkina
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then every parent in the world should feel extremely flattered at all times.  For that's what little children do: they copy their parents, their peers, and pretty much everyone they meet.  During the preschool years, many kids take up the maddening practice of copying people word for word - the cry "stop copying me!" kicks-off all too many a sibling squabble.  It can be annoying, no doubt, and yet it's worth thinking about what an important form of communication and learning children's impulse to imitate really is.  In this classic and enduringly popular tale, a traveling cap salesman and a bunch of monkeys offer an absurd and humorous reminder about the power and pitfalls of imitation.  

Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis
One of the big challenges of caring for young children is negotiating the gap between verbal and non-verbal communication.  Or, to put it another way, kids tend to express their feelings by yelling, giggling, sobbing, or jumping up and down while parents prefer, on the whole, to talk (kind of boring, when you think about it!).  There's a reason why you constantly hear caregivers intoning "use your words" - it's become a cliché of modern parenting, but often a necessary one!  For help in getting your little one to put words to moods and feelings, have a look at Jamie Lee Curtis's zany and wonderful Today I Feel Silly.  The rhyming text takes you through the gamut of emotions, and the marvelously wacky illustrations are a huge hit with young children - just the thing to get a conversation about feelings started!

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
In our efforts to communicate with our children, to teach them words and get them to use those words, we sometimes forget what a powerful means of communication silence can be.  This little book reminds us.  Even babies understand that there are different kinds of quiet: scary, lonely quiet and soothing quiet, for instance.  Small children also know "first snowfall quiet," and "best friends don't need to talk quiet," and "hide-and-seek quiet," while parents, of course, appreciate "sound asleep quiet."  The pictures in this lovely book are quiet too.  Delicate images of animals in soft grey and brown tones offer kids a gently humorous, helpful way to think through their own feelings about different kinds of quiet.  Will this book bring down the decibel level at your house?  We can't say for sure, but it's certainly a wonderful prelude to a nice, quiet snuggle.


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