During the months of lockdown, I babysat for a toddler with a growing vocabulary and a love for books.
Monday through Friday, I would arrive at her house bearing a bag of books, and soon she began saying a new word, “Alfie!”
I had many books, including several children’s bibles. But what word did she say, and what author did she constantly return to? Alfie.
So day by day, I read Alfie. (Though not all Alfie . . . Shirley Hughes’ simpler books and poetry collections were included in the word.) And as I did, I marveled at the ability of Shirley Hughes to create stories.
An Author Who Understands
Instead of simplistic prose, here was an author who good-humoredly invited us into her story.
Instead of abstract concepts about love and being —here was normal life in a book.
Toddlers are aware of the world around them —a smart toddler doesn’t miss much. They know mom and dad can understand this —and some friends might know this.
But a good book with an author who also understands their intelligence —this is why my toddler returned to Alfie.
Here was a story that didn’t pander and didn’t sentimentalize. It wasn’t boring. It wasn’t unusual or dreamy.
Here was a little boy who was like her, and a narrator who understood life through a child’s eyes.
Toddlers need books like this.
Alfie Gets in First
Toddlers understand the natural impulse to run ahead of mom, on the way home. (And no, it doesn’t count unless you are the first inside, too) so they understand why Alfie gallops into the house. And as Mum does what moms do —goes back outside for the stroller and little sister Annie Rose —Alfie does another thing they understand. He impulsively slams the door.
And just as the SLAM vibrates across the page, it sinks in.
He is now separated from Mum. He is alone. He cannot reach the door, and the keys are inside.
Shirley Hughes doesn’t pause to explain that doors only open with keys.
Any toddler worth their salt understands doors in their various forms.
She just keeps telling the story —Alfie’s distress, the gathering friends and neighbors, the happy solution.
A Greater Truth
A children’s book is the first time you can introduce your toddler to someone beyond yourself —beyond a person they know— who understands them. Who is willing to tell them a story and explain life in a slightly different way than mom or dad or grandmother . . . .
By reading your toddler books by authors who understand them —the more voices and styles and illustrations, the better— you are preparing them for one day reading a better Book. A true Story. Told by many authors and narrators and styles —but through God’s spirit, written by people who understand them.
We long to be known. We long to be understood, even as toddlers. Reading books that recognize and reach that longing —that say, “I see you, and I know you, and let me tell you a story . . .” are some of the best preparation for the ultimate Story, written by a sovereign God who sees and loves and understands, and who has given us a book to know Him more.
Recommended Reading from Redeemed Reader
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