Category Archives for "Selection Criteria"

Books for Breakfast

by Lisa Ripperton
​May 2, 2019

​In an earlier post Not Just at Bedtime we ​suggested reading aloud at meal-time. In this post we present the possibility of ​reading independently at some of your family meals.

​When I was growing up in the 1950s as the middle child of five, our family breakfast was definitely not a formal affair. We all walked to public schools in different directions that had staggered starting times, so our breakfasts were staggered too. Choice of cold cereal with topping of fruit was what was typically set out for us on the counter separating the kitchen from the dining room. With only four stools, we had to take turns. Eating breakfast in that way, I read the backs of more cereal boxes than I care to count. How I wish there had been some more interesting reading material laid out next to the boxes of cereal! 

​What my younger self would have appreciated

  • ​A small stack of books ​in a basket on the counter that we could choose from, and then ​pass to the left.
  • Books in a variety of genres so I could ​select ​a title that matched my mood.
  • Books of short readings ​that I could finish in the time it took me to eat my breakfast.
  • Something that would gladden my heart or give me food for thought as I was filling my belly.
  • ​Something humorous or uplifting to start the day on a positive note.​

An assortment of books for different reading levels

If you want to try this out with your family, I suggest you gather a few books at the right reading level for each of your children, books that they can read easily and will especially appreciate. Hardbacks work best because they are more likely to lie flat when open. But don't offer up your prized books for breakfast reading. Expect that cereal and milk will find their way onto the pages, so worn copies from a thrift shop will be a better fit. Only put a few out at a time and rotate them regularly so there is always something new on the "menu."

Below are some ideas for types of books that you might use in this context. I purposely chose books from a variety of genres to get you thinking about the possibilities.

Dolch folk tales for emerging readers

In the Dolch Basic Vocabulary Series the emphasis is on presenting interesting subject matter in a literary way, all the while employing a simple vocabulary with an average of less than one new word per page. The pages, which feature large text and spacious margins, do not have the look of a "school reader," so they are a good match for students just beginning to read independently at home. Stories vary in length but most are five pages, and typically take less than five minutes to read. Sample pages from the three titles pictured above appear below, followed by a graphic showing a list of all the titles in the series.

STEP-UP books for the next level

The STEP-UP books are fine choices for children once they are comfortable with reading and are ​​ready to explore on their own. According to the publisher, in the STEP-UP series,

  • ​THE WORDS ARE HARDER (but not too hard)
  • ​THERE'S A LOT MORE TEXT (but it's in bigger print)
  • ​THERE ARE PLENTY OF ILLUSTRATIONS (but they are not just picture books)
  • ​And the subject matter has been carefully chosen to appeal to young readers who want to find out about the world for themselves.

​Below is a list of the books in ​two categories of STEP-UP books: Nature Library and the Story of America. Then sample covers are displayed for three of the titles in the Nature Library and one in Story of America, followed by sample page spreads from these same ​volumes.

Minute biographies for older readers

I have long been a fan of the minute biographies illustrated by Samuel Nisenson with text written by others. Each biography spans one or at most two  8 1/2 x 11 pages. There is an illustration by Nisenson at the top of each biography that draws ​the reader in and sets the stage for the story that follows. While each biography includes an outline of the individual's life, the focus is on the major impact that he had in his field of endeavour, whether for good or ill. ​The stories are interestingly told with enough detail to ​fix the ​reader's attention, but with more to discover upon further inquiry.

Below are sample covers for three books in this series along with sample page spreads.

Here is a list of all the books I know about in this series. If you know of others, please let me know. For all titles Samuel Nisenson is the Illustrator.

     100 Greatest Sports Heroes by Mac Davis

     History's 100 Greatest Composers by Helen L. Kaufman

     History's 100 Greatest Events by William A. Dewitt

     Illustrated Minute Biographies by William A. Dewitt

     Minute Biographies by Alfred Parker

     More Minute Biographies by Alfred Parker​

Joke books offer something for all ages

​Last, but not least, a set of riddle books, enjoyed by everyone! Zany illustrations and easy to read text in Bennett Cerf's Book of Riddles, More Riddles, and Animal Riddles will have your young reader in stitches.

Let children sort out who reads what book

Some days a child may want to read a book at their reading level, but other days they may want to read an easier book, or one that particularly catches their eye, regardless of reading level. Let them decide!

​Where to get these books

​Sad to say, I strongly suspect that all the books featured in this post are no longer in print. Most, if not all, can be purchased relatively reasonably, though, at used books sites such as You may also want to keep an eye out for them at library sales or thrift shops. To preview titles at Internet Archive click on the text links above, the page spreads of the STEP-UP Books, and the covers of the riddle books. ​When you arrive at Internet Archive you will be able either to Borrow the book immediately or join a Waitlist to access it at a later time. ​Examining the full text at Internet Archive can help you decide what books might be worth purchasing for your family.

Share your experience

​If you are inspired to try serving books for breakfast, please let us know in the comments how it goes! Do you have suggestions for other books that would be good to ​offer for morning fare?


Selecting Nursery Tales

by Lisa Ripperton
April 25, 2019

Recently I read that a good number of children are arriving at kindergarten having never heard of stories such as The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff – nursery tales that have delighted generations of children. I was surprised and saddened to read this, as nursery tales play an important role in a child’s development, particularly in terms of pattern awareness and language acquisition. So, in hopes of encouraging more parents to read nursery ​tales to their children on a consistent basis, this post is all about the benefits of reading nursery tales, as well as criteria to use in selecting them. It also includes reviews of eight different illustrated nursery tale collections that we wholeheartedly recommend for parents and their young listeners (and one collection that we have reservations ​about).

The benefits of reading nursery tales

As mentioned above, nursery tales do make significant contributions to a child's cognitive development. The repetition of incidents and rhymes draws children into the story, encouraging them to anticipate what will happen next and begin to chime in on the rhymes. Since the patterns in these tales are clearly recognizable, children can easily become active participants in the reading process.

The rhymes in nursery tales also strengthen a child’s memory and help them to acquire new vocabulary. Hearing the same words or phrases repeated over and over helps to ingrain them in a child’s mind. And after hearing them spoken aloud several times, children then have multiple opportunities to try saying them aloud themselves.

Lastly, very young children crave consistency in all aspects of their life, and repetition and rhymes meet this need by offering a sense of security. In rhyming nursery tales, children quickly learn what what to anticipate from the text and their expectations are largely met, with subtle changes introduced through plot developments or simple word substitutions. Nursery rhymes thus introduce new ideas and words by couching them in more familiar language and patterns, a strategy that allows children to more easily assimilate them into their understanding.

​What to look for in collection of nursery tales

​First of all, make your life easier by choosing a collection of nursery tales all of which are suitable for use with your three to five year old child. Just because a book has the words "Nursery Tales" in the title does not mean that all tales in the book are appropriate for use with young children. Publishers may include stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White, and Rumpelstiltskin which require an emotional response beyond their years. Here is a list of the most popular nursery tales and some less familiar ones that are perfect to use with this age.

  • The Thre​e Bears or Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • ​The Three Little Pigs
  • ​The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  • ​The Little Red Hen
  • Henny Penny or Chicken Licken or Chicken Little
  • ​The Gingerbread Boy
  • ​Little Red Riding Hood
  • ​The Old Woman and Her Pig
  • ​Lambikin
  • ​The Turnip
  • The Cock, the Mouse, and the Little Red Hen
  • ​Lazy Jack
  • Teeny-Tiny or The Little Wee Woman
  • ​The Wolf and the Kids
  • ​The Three Sillies
  • ​The Elves and the Shoemaker
  • ​The Bremen Town Musicians
  • ​The Little Porridge Pot
  • ​The House on the Hill
  • ​The Three Wishes

Secondly, look for satisfactory endings! This is especially a concern with the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. You may have a sensitive child who will be devastated to hear that the wolf gobbled up the young lass even if she is disgorged whole later. Or you may be uncomfortable with that yourself. In either case, choose a version of the story that matches your sensibilities. Similarly with The Three Little Pigs. I prefer the version in which the wolf eats both the first and second little pigs and then is eaten in turn by the third little pig. After all, it is in the nature of wolves to eat little pigs, and the wolf who has done so deserves his come-uppance. But you may prefer to have the pigs and wolf simply run away. So preread each story to make sure you are satisfied with its ending. 

​Lastly, I have a strong preference for nursery tales with the traditional language and ​arresting turns of phrase, as in these lines at the end of The Gingerbread Boy:

Presently the gingerbread boy said: "Oh, dear! I'm quarter gone!" And then: "Oh, I'm half gone!" And soon: "I'm three-quarters gone!" And at last: "I'm all gone!" and never spoke again.

or these at the conclusion of Henny Penny. 

​He hadn't got far when "Hrumph," Foxy-woxy snapped off Turkey-lurkey's head and threw his body over his left shoulder. Then Goosey-poosey went in, and "Hrumph," off went her head and Goosey-poosey was thrown beside Turkey-lurkey....

Some versions omit them.

​The Helen Oxenbury Nursery Story Book
by Helen Oxenbury

The Helen Oxenbury Nursery Story Book (1985) invites children into the world of nursery tales with its appealing cover of bears, wolves, pigs, and children circling round. Inside await ten well-chosen tales, all suitable for children as young as three. The pages are attractively formatted with text of pleasing proportions and color illustrations throughout. The illustrations vary in size, with the full page illustrations capturing the dramatic action and the smaller illustrations setting the scene (as in the sample page spread below). The retellings of the stories are well done, the one exception being the story of The Three Little Pigs which is shortened by omitting the events in the turnip field, the apple orchard, and the fair. The children for whom this book is an introduction to nursery tales will relish those scenes when they encounter them later on in other editions. By the way, this ​title can be previewed in its entirety at Internet Archive.

​The ​Three Little Pigs and Other Favorite Nursery Stories
by ​Charlotte Voake

Charlotte Voake's The Three Little Pigs and Other Favorite Nursery Stories  (1991) is an exuberant presentation of ten nursery tales with both the text and the illustrations fairly dancing across the page. Large print and wide spaces between lines make this book especially suitable for emerging readers. The careful insertion of pictures at just the right point in the text support the reader and non-reader alike in following the story (see page spread below). Voake sticks to the traditional language for the most part. She includes the vivid endings for The Gingerbread Boy and Henny Penny, but uses different comparisons (hot/salty for porridge and high/lumpy for bed) than are customary in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Of the ten stories in the book, ​nine are on our list of must-read nursery tales. The other ​one (Mr. Vinegar) also comes highly recommended for five year olds. All in all, a fine book that will find years of service in a family setting.

​The ​Orchard Book of Nursery Stories
by ​Sophie Windham

Stunning illustrations adorn Sophie Windham's The Orchard Book of Nursery Stories (1991). Each story opens with a carefully crafted illustration above the title, many with a decorative border. Many details await discovery by the observant eye, not only in the eight full page color illustrations, but also in the smaller pictures pleasingly placed throughout. Large bold text, well-spaced, will ​delight the emerging reader in your family. The traditional language is followed in all cases. Of the fifteen stories in the book, ten can be used with children as young as three. The others — The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Musicians of Bremen, Country Mouse and Town Mouse, The Hedgehog and the Hare, and The Ugly Duckling — will be ​more appreciated by those five and up.

​The ​Three Bears & 15 Other Stories
by ​Anne Rockwell

Anne Rockwell's The Three Bears & 15 Other Stories (1975) is the edition of nursery tales nearest and dearest to us because of the role it played in our family life. I first heard about it from Dorothy Butler's Babies Need Books decades ago when my oldest son was three. She characterizes it as "a collection which can be acquired with confidence for three-year-olds. Several stories will be usable from two onwards if their babyhood has been bookish, and several might be left until four, but Anne Rockwell's The Three Bears and 15 Other Stories will be in daily use for years. This book is actually the equivalent of sixteen picture books. No page is without an expressive colour picture, and every single story is usable. There is something especially satisfying about a book which can be taken along on any expedition — a picnic, a trip to the doctor, a long car or train journey — with a guarantee of stories for all moods and moments. The Three Bears and 15 Other Stories is a treasure trove; sturdy, not too big, thoroughly companionable." With a billing like that, how could I resist? I was pleasantly surprised that it lived up to its expectations, not only with my oldest son but also with his two younger siblings a decade later! There is not much to add to Butler's thorough review, but I do want to call your attention to the ingenious pictorial table of contents (shown above) that might well be used to introduce children to the idea of a table of contents. By the way, this edition can be previewed in its entirety at Internet Archive.

​The ​Old Woman and Her Pig and 10 Other Stories
by ​Anne Rockwell

Anne Rockwell's The Old Woman and Her Pig and 10 Other Stories makes a great addition to your collection of nursery tales if you already have The Three Bears & 15 Other Stories. It features five more nursery tales, two of which are not to be missed  —  Lambikin and The Travels of a Fox. Also included are four fables suitable for this age and two folk tales better saved for ages six and up  — The Lad Who Went to the North Wind and The Shepherd Boy. As in the earlier book, the illustrations in this book are striking both in number and in artistry! They tend toward the whimsical with figures that have definite personalities that are sure to engage your youngsters. By the way, this edition can be previewed in its entirety at Internet Archive.

​​Best Nursery Tales Ever
by ​Richard Scarry

​Richard Scarry's Best Nursery Tales Ever was originally published in 1975 as Animal Nursery Tales (with a yellow cover). A large format book, it includes ten stories and one nursery rhyme — a fine choice of stories, all well told. ​As in other Richard Scarry books, all characters are animals, even those that are traditionally people in other collections. Here cats play the parts of Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood, her mother, and grandmother, while a pair of pigs ​are featured as the little old man and little old man in The Gingerbread Man. Fittingly, the role of the teeny-tiny woman is assumed by a mouse! Also, as in other Richard Scarry books, the pages are "busy" with lots of illustrations and blocks of text. ​If your family enjoys other Richard Scarry books, this volume will be a fine one to add to your collection!

​The ​Tall Book of Nursery Tales
by Feodor Rojankovsky

​Having owned a copy of The Tall Book of Christmas when I was young, I know the hold that a volume in the Tall Book series can exert on a child. I loved that book, partly for its unusual shape, but partly for the way that the illustrations had to be designed to the space, serving up a different perspective. Feodor Rojankovsky in his The Tall Book of Nursery Tales ​ (1944) uses the space at his disposal in a masterful way. You can see that above in the cover of the book where the tall trees are towering over the children, as well as in the sample page below where you ​observe Goldilocks tasting the porridge from a different vantage point. Of the 24 stories in this book, 15 are nursery tales and 7 are fables, all well suited to this age. Two stories — The Ugly Duckling and The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean could be profitably put off for a couple of years. The text follows the traditional lines. ​But the illustrations are extraordinary, evoking a magical place in an old world of long ago. Rojankovsky creates animals like no one else, his interest in drawing stemming from a childhood visit to a zoo and the gift of a set of crayons. A fine book for children to examine at their leisure!

​​Great Children's Stories
by ​Frederick Richardson

Great Children's Stories illustrated by Frederick Richardson is a compilation of two books originally published decades ago: Old Old Tales Retold (1923) and Frederick Richardson's Book for Children (1938). Both of these titles were published in landscape format, so the illustrations had to be adapted to fit the Classic Volland Edition of Great Children's Stories pictured above. The 17 stories in this book comprise a stellar collection of nursery tales, all attractively illustrated in great detail. You will note two different styles of illustrations in this volume depending upon which of the original titles the stories were sourced from. The pages are attractively formatted and could be used for independent reading later on. The text is sound. ​Do note though that in ​this version of The Three Little Pigs, the first and second pigs run away, as does the wolf at the end. To get more of the flavor of Richardson's nursery tales, you can read the first couple of stories in both Old Old Tales Retold and Frederick Richardson's Book for Children at Gateway to the Classics. ​Or you can preview the volume in its entirety at Internet Archive.

​​Favorite Nursery Tales
by ​Tomie de Paola

​I was initially excited to discover that Tomie de Paola had illustrated an edition of nursery tales, Tomie de Paola's Favorite Nursery Tales. But ​when I examined the 30 entries listed in the Table of Contents, I was dismayed to find that only 11 qualified as nursery tales for ages 3 to 5. Seven stories ​were ones best used several years later. (The collection also contains four poems and eight fables which would be fine to use with younger children.) I also was disappointed by the excessive moralizing in The Three Bears and the nontraditional ending of The Three Little Pigs in which the pigs and wolf simply run away. If you already have this title, these are the nine ​nursery tales I recommend you use with your little ones: Johnny Cake, The Little Red Hen, The Three Billy-Goats Gruff, Johnny and the Three Goats, The Straw Ox, The Elves and the Shoemaker, Chicken Licken, The Cat and the Mouse, and The House on the Hill. If you don't have this title yet, I recommend you choose instead one of the editions reviewed above. ​By the way, this edition can be previewed in its entirety at Internet Archive.

Final thoughts

Since many of these collections share the same classic stories, parents will want to look to the illustrations and aesthetic of each book in order to determine what might be the best fit for their family. That being said, we do always recommend exposing children to nursery tales from different sources. Reading different versions of the classic stories gives children the opportunity to compare illustrators, text variations, language choices, and so on. Besides, so many of these books are just too good to miss!

While most of these titles were published before 1995 and many are no longer in print, the stories and illustrations they contain are evergreen. We hope that readers will find at least one new title from the list of nursery tale collections given above that excites them! 

Share your experience

Do you have a favorite collection of nursery tales that we omitted? Please share in the comments below!

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