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At the end of a long day, there's a phrase that parents of small children can come to dread hearing: "Read me a story!"
Though bedtime reading can be fun, reading the same book over and over and over again can be excruciating for parents.
Margaret Willison, a librarian who specializes in young readers, tells NPR's Kelly McEvers she recommends three picture books in particular that appeal to children without boring the pants off their parents.
Of course, you don't have to eschew words altogether to make repetitive reading more fun.
Willison suggests replacing words in familiar books with a similar rhyming alternative — for example, "goodnight spoon" in place of "goodnight moon" — to catch your child off guard. She explains that engaging and sharing a joke with your child makes reading more enjoyable for everyone.
"Don't be afraid to sort of break into the story and interact with your child while you're doing it," she says.
THE KIDS' TABLE - BOOKS THAT WON'T BORE
I Want My Hat Back
Willison suggests finding a book with a dual narrative — one that parents and their children can enjoy on different levels — and points to I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen as an example.
The book follows a bear as he searches for his missing hat. Early on in the story, it becomes clear to readers — though not to the bear himself — that the hat has been stolen by another woodland animal.
"Your toddler appreciates it on a level of dramatic irony, where they get to see the hat before the bear realizes he has, so they get to feel like they're one-up on the bear," says Willison.
If the story of a dopey bear searching for his missing hat sounds like exactly the kind of cutesy bedtime reading parents hope to avoid, don't worry, Willison says: Klassen's sparsely funny illustrations and a darkly humorous twist ending make the story exciting for adults, too.
Another quality to look for in selecting the perfect picture book: rich detail.
"I think the king of that is Kevin Henkes," says Willison. Some may recognize Henkes as the author of Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, a story about a preschool-aged mouse and her outrageous handbag.
However, the book that Willison recommends most highly in Henkes' mouse series is Chester's Way, a story about two "arrestingly finicky" little boys who are not sure how to respond when a wild new girl moves into their neighborhood and tries to spend time with them.
"He just puts these really priceless asides into the illustrations," says Willison. "If a character is anxious, there will be another character in every frame who's wearing a different T-shirt that says something like, 'Chill out bro,' or 'Hangin' and relaxin' here.' "
She adds that detail-rich illustration allows parents something new to notice with every read, and lets children appreciate the variety of expressions and activity laid out on every page.
A third solution to boring bedtime reading? Picture books with no words at all, says Willison. Mr. Wuffles by David Weisner uses illustrations alone to tell the story of a cat who has grown bored with all of his toys. The apathetic Mr. Wuffles can hardly be roused from his nap, until he discovers one toy that is not a toy at all, but a spaceship filled with tiny aliens.
"It's this priceless mix of very mundane and familiar details ... and this really whimsical fantastical element," says Willison.
She adds that wordless picture books give parents an opportunity to rest their voices at the end of a long day, while simultaneously encouraging children to develop their own storytelling abilities.
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