My Heart Fills With Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett

My Heart Fills With Happiness is a simple and charming board book to share with your baby or toddler. The beautiful illustrations by Flett show small children engaged joyously in everyday things – watching bannock bake, singing with an older sibling, dancing in the sun, holding a parent’s hand, while the text repeats, “My heart fills with happiness when …” every few pages. As is usual with Flett’s illustrations, there are lots of details to linger over, providing good opportunities for conversation and language-building interaction. Look! Do you see the puppy? What’s it doing? Can you find the ladybugs in the flowers? What’s that? Is it a frog? Do you think the boy sees the frog? It ends by addressing the child directly, “What fills your heart with happiness?” leaving room for more conversation and reflection.


Forest has a Song, by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley

Forest has a Song is a delight, a book of poetry that follows a child’s relationship with the nearby forest through a year, from winter around to winter again. The mood changes from poem to poem, as does the style. The watercolour illustrations depict sometimes only the girl and her dog exploring the woods, and sometimes her brother and parents as well. My favourites were “Song”, from which the title of the book is taken, “Farewell”, the final poem, and oddly, “Bone Pile”, in which she contemplates the last skeletal remains of some forest animal.

Literacy Tip: Reading poetry and nursery rhymes to babies is a fun and easy way to help babies learn the sounds and rhythms of language, even before they begin to use words themselves. There are many rhyming books that have simple, bouncing rhymes and bright pictures. Remember Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop or the Berenstains’ Inside, Outside, Upside Down? Traditional nursery rhymes are another source of poetry for young children. Sheree Fitch is known for her poetry for older kids, but she has also written books for babies, such as Kisses, Kisses, Baby-O. Ook’s favourite poetry to read to children, even babies, is by A.A. Milne. His two books of children’s poetry, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, are also available in one volume as The World of Christopher Robin. Even when children don’t know what the words mean, the sounds are beautiful, and as they grow older listening to the poetry, they begin to learn new words from the context.

Board Books!

Just what is a board book? Board books are books for babies and toddlers. Rather than being printed on paper, they’re manufactured of thick, glossy cardboard, so that tiny hands can’t tear the pages as they help you to read. The stories are usually short and appropriate for toddlers, with many pictures. Even if your baby isn’t ready for the story yet, sitting down every evening with a book is a great way to wind down before bedtime. Looking at the pictures and talking about them to your baby helps him or her to develop language and to begin a long, happy relationship with books. Even if all the “reading” involved is you saying, “Look, that’s a dog. Woof! Woof! And there’s a cat. What does a cat say? Mew!” the book is opening up a new world for Baby. Sometimes regular picture books are published in special board book editions, too. A few of Ook’s favourite board books in our library are George and the Dragon, by Chris Wormell, the story of a dragon, a kidnapped princess, and a mouse who just wants to borrow some sugar, Al Perkins’ bouncy rhyming book for babies Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, and Rosemary Wells’ lovely Read to your Bunny, also written in verse. All of these are great stories to share with your pre-schooler, for both the words and the art.