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Teaching the Kao Kids: Raising a Reader (Part 2) – Choosing Engaging Titles

November 29, 2013

I’m not going to be writing a ‘New York Times Parents’ Guide to the Best Books for Children’ kind of post for this entry, but I’d like to share some of the books that the kids and I love, and how they have helped tremendously in making readers out of them. Hopefully, these recommendations would interest your child too, and get them to love reading like how they helped increase the Kao kids’ appetite for books and more books.


  • 0 – 18 months: Board books with lots of pictures

As a newborn, a baby responds to words, rhymes and songs by cooing, gurgling and smiling and enjoys the beat and tone of your voice while listening to stories. By the time baby turns 6 months, he begins to enjoy reading with his favourite person and bonds with you when you start reading to him. When he reaches 12-18 months, the child starts to understand and says simple words. He is able to answer “where is” questions by pointing and reacts to hand movements, faces, and changes in tone of voice. If you give him books with sturdy pages, he might even begin to start flipping them. If you read him enough interesting stories, he’s going to start preferring to have some books repeated more than others.

We’re very blessed to own an assortment of picture books, board books, flip-the-flap books and plastic books from friends who passed them on after their children outgrew them. They have entertained all three kids during this phase of exploration and learning. I place these books at the bottom shelves of our library so they are always within reach.

I highly recommend the following for this age. These are quite guaranteed to fascinate your little toddler and encourage them to pick up a book for the fun they would have!

1. Books with mirrors

It’s sheer pleasure for a little toddler to be seeing and hearing himself through such books. Especially if reading such books are occasions of bonding time he spends with a person who loves him! I’m sure the story and peek-a-boo bits would thrill the little one and get him excited about reading!

Motherkao recommends: Disney Baby Einstein: Mirror Me! – this busy book with a mirror on every spread (and a peekaboo finale!) teaches babies and young children parts of the face in a playful way.

Mirror book

2. Finger puppet books

Finger puppets are an excellent way to introduce reading and visual play to your toddler. With finger puppets, board books come to life for the little ones and offer the most natural and enjoyable way to engage young children in the process of reading.

Motherkao recommends: Little Finger Puppet Books by ImageBooks which features Little Puppy, Little Horse, Little Duck, Little Butterfly and many more little ones! Check out the whole series here.

3. Books with pull tabs or flaps

These books are aplenty now everywhere, designed with many fancy schmancies and bright colours to entertain children. Books now allow kids to lift flaps, pull tabs, feel textures and even scratch and sniff real smells! Indulge your little one with these, I say. They are only babies once, and such books are such wonderful exploration tools to get them interested in books.

Motherkao recommends: A Mini Magic Colour Book Series published by Pinwheel Children’s Books. I chanced upon these at a book fair and thought they really fascinating! We bought the entire collection and the kids learned their colours at a young age through these books, where the creatures turn into colourful things when the tabs are pulled.

Magic colour books

  • 18 – 24 months: Rhymes with Dr Seuss

From 18 months onwards, a child learns new words everyday. He may also start to recognise specific books by their covers and wants to be read to if you’ve already established a routine earlier on. By 24 months, a child’s vocabulary grows exponentially and he begins to use simple words in combination.

I say, it’s finally time to bring on the rhymes, and there’s only one man for the job!

Motherkao recommends: Dr Seuss Board Books.

Dr Seuss board books

No one does it better than dear Dr Seuss! It’s a good time to let the kids meet Horton, Mr Brown, the Knox, Pat, Pop and Pup and have a good laugh at nonsensical, silly rhymes and quirky illustrations that would tickle their funny bones. One can never get enough of this American writer, poet and cartoonist.

By the way, I am still very much tickled at this age, reading his books aloud to the kids! But be sure to get the ‘Bright and Early Board Books’ Series (Random House) which are simple and sturdy enough for the little one to flip and follow.

  • 2.5 years old: Short tales, Phonics and well-loved children authors

At 2.5 years old, a child begins to speak in sentences and asks simple questions, especially “why” questions. He may also start to like reading aloud, and may join you in doing so. This is also the time when he is able to follow a storyline and remembers content, and likes hearing his favourite books read aloud over and over.

2.5 years old is also the time I would start developing a child’s phonemic awareness, and have them start their learning of the letters of the Alphabet and the sounds each letter makes. I would also, while teaching the letters of the Alphabet, begin on sight word reading which would involve getting the child acquainted with high frequency words which are commonly used and encouraging him to memorise the word as a whole by sight, so that he can automatically recognise these words in print without having to use any strategies to decode them. This is to prepare him to start reading on his own if and when he is ready.

My experience with Ben so far has been such: if given a choice, he would always want to be read aloud to, and I usually don’t pass on the opportunity to read aloud to him. But if he has no choice, and there’s nothing else to do (i.e. experiencing a common feeling called boredom), he would pick up a reader simple enough to read the book on his own, and revisit the story. This is the result of having started some routines of reading certain books at this age.

Motherkao recommends:

1. Scholastic’s AlphaTales

AlphaTales is a totally charming collection of alliterative stories. There is one for each letter of the alphabet and each book includes a simple story of a character plus a hide-and-seek picture page and a rhyming letter poem. At the back of each book, there is also a complete teacher’s guide filled with suggested activities and easy lessons.


This collection is a really good way to build phonemic awareness and get kids acquainted with the Alphabet. The Kao kids love this series, and the older ones would now pick up a book on their own to read and look for letter-related items in the hide-and-seek page.

2. Well-loved children’s books (by Eric Carle, Rod Campbell and Mem Fox)

At this age, we’re reading and repeating Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell), Where is the Green Sheep? (Mem Fox), The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Quiet Cricket and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See (Eric Carle) – for its predictability, simplicity, and beautiful illustrations. At this age, most children are also beginning to be fascinated with animals, and these books offer young readers the opportunity to learn something about animals and the world around them  in a really fun way.

Well loved authors 1

I shared some lesson ideas in the earlier part of the year for Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Dear Zoo here and here.

  • 3 years old: More inspiring stories and well-loved children books

By three, a child knows that it is letters and words that are being read in stories he hears, and starts to pay attention to distinct and similar sounds in language. He may also begin to play with language and make up silly sounds and words (more so if you’ve started reading Dr Seuss already!), and help you complete familiar stories and stories in what we call predictable books. Predictable books have language patterns and repeated refrains that children this age absolutely love, and I absolutely adore some of these stories which give me so much mileage in terms of creating and designing follow-up activities that allow us to revisit the story again and again in more ways than one.

Motherkao recommends:

1. More Eric Carle

As your child begins to acquire more language skills at this age, it’s time to bring on universal themes, more abstract concepts, more moving tales and books with more extensive vocabulary. I’m often found shopping at various online bookstores to acquire more well-loved children’s favourites, and I’m always thinking more Eric Carle at this point. Eric Carle’s list of printed books in English can be found here and his books in print number to 40. I wished I could buy them all! Some great reads to introduce the children at this age include Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?, Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, Little Cloud and Papa, Please Get the Moon For Me.

Stay tuned for some lesson activities we did with Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? next month.

Eric Carle

2. More Dr Seuss

It may be a little overwhelming and difficult to follow at first, but you absolutely need to transport your little ones to Seussville where fun is good and nonsense prevails.

Dr Seuss

Get them to meet all the nonsensical imaginative characters that would blow their mind away, and immerse them in a world of craziness and funniness of Dr Seuss! We’ve had so much fun meeting Thing 1, Thing 2, the Cat and Sam I Am reading Ten Apples Up on Top, Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat and McElligot’s Pool, and at this age where they are so very imaginative, the kids never say no to a good Dr Seuss book.

Dr Seuss Quote thing 1 & 2

3. Mr Men and Little Miss series

We introduced Mr Men to the kids this year when Fatherkao decided to make it a routine to read aloud one book every night to the kids. I’ve never read this series by Roger Hargreaves as a kid, and my, I found all the ‘men’ in this series delightfully funny. Every little book is an enjoyable read – every story contains a simple moral lesson, brightly coloured illustrations and simple literal humour – and it also introduces adjectives like grumpy, clumsy, messy, sneezy to the kids. I like it when the kids get to build on their vocabulary listening to stories.

Mr Men Library

Mr Men chart

When I get my hands on the Little Miss Library, it will be my turn to read one book to them every night. Can’t wait!

Little Miss chart

  • 4 years old: Non-fiction, Berenstain Bears and Shel Silverstein 

By four years of age, your child would be able to recognise alphabet sounds, sounds that are the same and sounds that are different, and some printed letters and numbers. He would also be able to focus on a specific task and take turns speaking in a conversation. By now, if he is an avid reader, he would have had some books memorised and can recognise rhyming words. According to the experts, if you have been reading 20 minutes a day with your child from birth, you would have, by now, given your child almost 400 hours of pre-literacy experience. 

This is the age where exploration of the world at the cognitive, intellectual level really begins, and for me, it really IS the best time to introduce books that has the ability to shape his perspective of the world we live in.

Motherkao recommends:

1. The Berenstain Bears

The Berenstain Bears is a series of books created by Stan and Jan Berenstain and continued by their son, Mike Berenstain, which feature a family of bears who generally learn a moral or safety-related lesson in the course of each story. I particularly love the books that are published in collaboration with Christian publisher Zondervan that share Christian beliefs, featuring Bible verses, values and virtues.

Berenstain Bears

The Kao kids love these books too, in part because the Bear family is very much like ours, with Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Brother Bear, Sister Bear and Honey Bear!

2. Shel Silverstein

For the record, I will tell you I love, love, love Shel Silverstein. And it is this love I have for his books that I have introduced him to Ben who is four this year. I love his unique style of writing, which is funny and sad and makes you think. He transports his readers into his world that’s filled with an extremely bold sense of humour, which is riotous, delightful and thought-provoking at the same time.

Shel Silverstein

You need to read The Giving Tree and Runny Babbit, if you haven’t! Ben and I read The Giving Tree together during our special time occasionally, and it’s a book that you can explore with your child on many levels of interpretation – about God, parent-child relationship, friendship and the environment  – and it’s a deeply inspiring book for any four-year-old.

3. Lots of non-fiction according to his / her interests

This is the time to delve into non-fiction and bring on everything that he might be exploring and discovering, from math facts to going to the dentist to the solar system. Kids will definitely appreciate an adult reading and finding out things together with them, and reading non-fiction is also a great way to answer their questions.

We’ve amassed many of these non-fiction books from Scholastic and Nat Geo, and the kids are sometimes taken out of the world of fiction (by me) to pore over them so they can learn more about our world.

Nonfiction 1

Nonfiction 2

  • 5 years and on: Roald Dahl’s short stories

Motherkao recommends: Roald Dahl’s short stories for children

I’ve started introducing chapter books by Roald Dahl to Ben (and Becks, but she loses interest after a while cos’ “there are no pictures!” says the little girl) and it’s been quite a success, except that it is tiring to read his books out loud, chapter by chapter. I’ve finished Fantastic Mr Fox and am starting on George’s Marvellous Medicine, and we’ll be meeting Mr Willy Wonka in a while!

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is a must for all kids, in my opinion. He’s one of the greatest writers of our time and his stories can fuel the limitless imagination of children and take them on their own wild flights of fantasy along with the BFG, the Witches, Willy Wonka (and the Oompa Loompas, my favourite people!), Danny and the Twits! I know, cos’ he’s taken me on a few of my wildest flights when I was a child!


My goal for my children is that they read well before they turn 6 on their own and to have that love for reading kept alive always. I am looking forward to the day that we can all snuggle together on a nice rainy day with our own books and read for hours on end. Till this day comes, I will be introducing more age-appropriate titles to them and have them fall in love with reading over and over again.

Do you have any recommendations for engaging titles which your kids absolutely must read? Do share them with me in the comments below!


Next in Part 3: A Word on Readers

Previously in Part 1: Getting your kids to love reading

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  • Reply Adeline November 29, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    The Mini Magic Colour Book series looks super fun, and perfect for little busy hands, who like to touch everything. And gosh, there are scratch and sniff books too? I must look for those!
    In addition to your extensive list, I also love Sandra Boynton’s books. I prefer her illustrations to those of Eric Carle, mainly because they look cuter to me, and she’s got really fun rhymes in her books. Noah loves her books, especially the Little Pookie series, and others such as Barnyard Dance, and The Going to Bed Book.
    Thanks for sharing such a detailed post. Now to hunt for some of your recommendations…

    • Reply MotherKao December 2, 2013 at 9:38 AM

      Ooh, we love Sandra Boynton too, and we have her Barnyard Bath Book complete with a wash cloth. She invited all my three kids to “wash” the animals in the book and it was so much fun! Have to agree that her illustrations are really cute!

      Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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