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Books You Gotta Read: Age 4

Books You Gotta Read: Age 4

Are you looking for books to share with your 4-year-old?

I began compiling this list of books when my children were 8, 5, and 2. We are a homeschooling family. I put a lot of emphasis on reading. In addition to more formal reading lessons, my oldest also must read 2.5 hours on her own each week and my second must read 20 books weekly. My third and fourth will also be required to read for fun as each learns to read.

While searching for books to read with my children, I found the book 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up by Bianca Schulze. I started reading through the recommended picture books and additional suggested titles with my kids. However, I did not like all the books, and I thought some fabulous titles were missing. 101 Books includes titles for preschoolers through tweens. I thus decided to compile my own list of pictures that I label as gotta-reads.

1: Where the Wild Things Are
Written and Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

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  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publisher: Harper & Row
  • Date: 1963
  • Page Count: 48

Author and Illustrator

Born in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, author and illustrator Maurice Sendak created over ninety children’s books. He began writing and illustrating little books as a young boy along with his older brother. He lost much of his extended family during the Holocaust. He became widely known in 1963 for Where the Wild Things Are. Sendak describes the book, along with the companions In the Night Kitchen (1970) and Outside Over There (1981), as works about “how children manage to get through childhood…how they defeat boredom, worries and fear, and find joy.” In 1970, he was the first American awarded the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal. Sendak died in 2012 at age 83.

Synopsis

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Max is wild — as all kids sometimes are. Tired of his antics as he runs around wildly in his wolf costume, his mother sends Max to bed without supper. While he pouts, a forest appears in his bedroom. Max hops in a boat and sails to an island inhabited by creatures known as Wild Things. With his wild ways, he becomes king of all the wild things, but, after the wild rumpus ends, Max finds himself feeling lonely and decides to return home. Where the Wild Things Are won the Caldecott Medal in 1964.

Recommended Reading

Fun Facts

Where the Wild Things Are began as a story called Where the Wild Horses Are, but Sendak could not draw horses well, so he came up with the creatures known as the Wild Things.

Sendak also illustrated the popular Little Bear series written by Elsa Holmelund Minarik.

2: The Gruffalo
Written by Julia Donaldson and Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Animals
  • Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
  • Date: 1999
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born in 1948, author Julia Donaldson originally wrote songs for children’s television but switched to writing books after her song “A Squash and a Squeeze” was adapted into a children’s book in 1993. Her best known titles include The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, and Stick Man. Her books have been translated into over 70 languages. She was the UK Children’s Laureate from 2011 to 2013. She currently resides in the UK with her husband Malcolm, dividing her time between Sussex in England and Edinburgh in Scotland. In addition to picture books, Donaldson writes fiction, poems, plays, and songs.

Illustrator

Born in 1957, German illustrator and animator Axel Scheffler studied at the University of Hamburg and the Bath School of Art and Design and currently works from London, England. He is best known for his cartoonish illustrations in The Gruffalo and other collaborations with author Julia Donaldson. He is the author and illustrator of the Pip and Posy series. He has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

Synopsis

As a mouse walks through the forest one day, he crosses paths with a fox, owl, and snake who each invite him into their homes as a meal. The mouse knows he is good enough to eat and thus tells the hungry animals about his plans with a terrible creature: a gruffalo. The gruffalo loves to eat roasted fox, owl ice cream, and scrambled snake. But the mouse knows that he need not worry because there is no such thing as a gruffalo. Young readers will enjoy following along as the clever mouse outsmarts any creature that wants to eat him.

The Gruffalo has received multiple awards including the 1999 Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, the 2000 Nottingham/Experian Children’s Book award, and the Blue Peter Best Book To Read Aloud award. The book has also been adapted into an Oscar-nominated animated film. The Gruffalo’s Child is the sequel to the original story.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Donaldson based The Gruffalo on a Chinese folktale in which a fox that borrows the terror of a tiger. She could not think of a word that rhymed with tiger and instead made up an imaginary creature that rhymed with know.

3: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Written and Illustrated by Dr. Seuss

Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Rhyme, Motivation
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Date: 1990
  • Page Count: 56

Author and Illustrator

Born in 1904 as Theodor Seuss “Ted” Geisel, author and illustrator Dr. Seuss attended Dartmouth College at age 18, writing for its humor magazine, Jack-O-Lantern, under the pseudonym “Suess.” After graduating from Dartmouth, he attended the University of Oxford in England but dropped out in 1927. Over the next decade, he worked in cartooning. Numerous magazines published his articles and illustrations. He also worked in the advertising department at Standard Oil. During World War II, he created animated training films and propaganda posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. He and his wife then purchased an old observation tower in La Jolla, California. Over the next five decades until his death in 1991 at age 87, Dr. Seuss wrote over 60 published books.

Synopsis

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! offers the perfect sendoff to anyone embarking on a new journey in life. Written in the second person and told by a narrator, the story addresses the ups and downs of life. Sometimes you will soar to high heights and see great sights. Other times you will be left in a lurch. And still others you might find yourself simply waiting. The message is simple but never saccharine: Life is a balancing act, but things should work out.

Recommended Reading

Fun Facts

Dr. Seuss published his first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street in 1937. The 1990 Oh, the Places You’ll Go was his last book published during his lifetime.

He won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1984. Three of his books were selected as Caldecott Honor books, but he never received the Caldecott Medal or the Newbery Medal.

4: The Story of Ferdinand
Written by Munro Leaf and Illustrated by Robert Lawson

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Animals, Individuality
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
  • Date: 1936
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born as Wilbur Monroe Leaf in 1905, American author Munro Leaf wrote and illustrated many children’s books during his career. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1927 and later taught at the Belmont Hill School in Boston and worked as an editor for the publisher Frederick A. Stokes Company. He wrote The Story of Ferdinand on a yellow legal-length pad in less than an hour for his friend, illustrator Robert Lawson, who also illustrated the book. Leaf died of cancer in December 1976 at age 71.

Illustrator

Born in New York City in 1892, American author and illustrator Robert Lawson was the first person to receive a Caldecott Medal and a Newbery Award. After high school, he studied art under illustrator Howard Giles for three years. His career as an illustrator began in 1914 with the publication of an illustration for a poem in Harper’s Weekly. He also published in other popular magazines of the time. He wrote and illustrated seventeen of his own books and illustrated nearly 40 books for other authors. He received both the Caldecott Medal for They Were Strong and Good in 1941 and a Newbery Award for Rabbit Hill in 1945. Lawson died in May 1957 at age 64 in Westport, Connecticut in the house named Rabbit Hill.

Synopsis

Unlike all the other bulls in a pasture in Spain who lived to run and jump and butt their heads together, Ferdinand liked to sit quietly by himself under his favorite tree, smelling the flowers. One day as some men are deciding which bull to take to a bullfight, Ferdinand accidentally sits on a bee. The bee stings Ferdinand (as any bee who was just sat on would do), and Ferdinand runs around the pasture wildly. He finds himself in the middle of a bullfight ring, where he promptly sits down to smell the flowers in lovely ladies’ hair. In the end Ferdinand is happy being himself, sitting alone quietly under his favorite tree, just smelling the flowers.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Published at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, The Story of Ferdinand was banned in Spain and many other countries. Ferdinand the bull was accused of being a political symbol, although The New York Times insisted the story was about being true to yourself. The book was also burned in Germany by the Nazi regime. After World War II ended, 30,000 copies of the book were handed out free to German children to encourage peace. The book has been translated into over 60 languages and has never gone out of print.

5: The Seven Silly Eaters
Written by Mary Ann Hoberman and Illustrated by Marla Frazee

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Food, Picky Eaters, Rhyme
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
  • Date: 1997
  • Page Count: 40

Author

Born in Stamford, Connecticut in 1930, author Mary Ann Hoberman loved books from a young age. She graduated from Smith College in 1951 and earned an MA in English Literature from Yale University in 1986. She received a National Book Award in 1983 and the 2003 Poetry for Children Award of the National Council of Teachers of English. She served as the Children’s Poet Laureate of the Poetry Foundation from 2008 to 2011. Hoberman currently lives in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Illustrator

Born and raised in California, illustrator Marla Frazee earned a BRA from the Art Center College of Design in 1981. Her early influences include Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. She received a Caldecott Honor for All the World and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever and the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Picture Book for The Farmer and the Clown. In addition to illustrating children’s books, she has designed toys for companies like Mattel, Milton Bradley, and Parker Brothers as well as created Happy Meal boxes for McDonald’s and team characters for the National Football League. Frazee currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Synopsis

Mrs. Peters is a mother of seven. All seven of her children are picky eaters. The oldest eats only milk. The second wants only homemade lemonade. After years of preparing her children’s one and only favorite foods, Mrs. Peters starts to get tired. So, on her birthday, her kids decide to make their mother something special. The dish turns out to be a dish that the entire family can enjoy together.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Frazee gained recognition as a children’s book illustrator after the publication of The Seven Silly Eaters. She also wrote and illustrated The Boss Baby, on which DreamWorks Animation based the 2017 film of the same name.

6: White Snow, Bright Snow
Written by Alvin Tresselt and Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin

White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Winter
  • Publisher: Lathrop, Lee & Shepard Books
  • Date: 1947
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born in 1916, American author Alvin Tresselt wrote over thirty children’s books and over twenty book-length adaptations of folktales. After growing up in Passaic, New Jersey, he worked as the editor of Humpty Dumpty’s Magazine and was the executive editor and vice president of Parents’ Magazine Press from 1967 to 1974. His first book, Rain Drop Splash, received a Caldecott Honor in 1947. Another book, Hide and Seek Fog, also received a Caldecott Honor in 1966. Tresselt died in July 2000 at age 84 in his home in Burlington, Vermont.

Illustrator

Born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1900, Swiss-born American writer and illustrator Roger Duvoisin learned to draw at an early age with encouragement from his father and godmother. He studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. In addition to working with Alvin Tresselt on many titles, Duvoisin also wrote and illustrated a successful series featuring Petunia the goose and Veronica the hippopotamus. He was the runner-up for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1968. Duvoisin died in June 1980 at age 79.

Synopsis

The adults in town said it looked, smelled, and felt like snow. The rabbits and children all knew snow was coming too. And then the first flakes fell from the gray sky. While the grownups do things like put on rubber boots and shovel paths, the children delight in the wonder of the season by catching snowflakes on their tongues and building snowmen. Eventually the snow melts, and the first robin of the season assures everyone that spring has come again. White Snow, Bright Snow received the Caldecott Medal in 1948 and was recognized as an ALA Notable Book.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Duvoisin illustrated White Snow, Bright Snow in blue-gray tones with splashes of yellow and red that emphasize the snowy winter and joyousness of the season.

7: Snow
Written and Illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

Snow by Uri Shulevitz

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Winter
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
  • Date: 1998
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1935, writer and illustrator Uri Shulevitz received the Caldecott Medal for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship in 1969 and a Caldecott Honor for The Treasure in 1980, Snow in 1999, and How I Learned Geography in 2000. After fleeing from Poland with his family as a young child due to World War II and living in both Paris and Israel, he moved to New York City in 1959 and studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. He began his career in children’s books working as an illustrator for a Hebrew children’s book publisher. He published his first picture book, The Moon in My Room, in 1963. Shulevitz currently resides in New York City.

Synopsis

On a gray day in a gray city, one snowflake fell. No one thought that a few small flakes would amount to much, except for a boy and his dog. The grownups scoffed. Then another snowflake fell. The radio and television said, “No snow.” But snowflakes do not pay attention to weather reports. Soon more snowflakes fell, and soon the entire city was covered in white. Young readers will delight in watching the gray city turn to bright white shown through watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations. Snow won the Charlotte Zolotow Award and received a Caldecott Honor in 1999.

Recommended Reading

8: The Snowy Day
Written and Illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Winter, Childhood
  • Publisher: The Viking Press
  • Date: 1962
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City in 1916, Polish-Jewish-American author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats began creating pictures as a young boy. While in high school, he won a national student contest from the Scholastic Publishing Company for an oil painting depicting hobos warming themselves around a fire. As a young adult, he worked as a mural painter under the New Deal program the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and as a comic book illustrator. He spent most of 1949 painting and studying in Paris and then returned to New York to focus on earning a living as a commercial artist. He published his first children’s book My Dog Is Lost in 1960. Over the course of his life, he wrote and illustrated 22 books and illustrated over 85 others. Keats died in May 1983 at age 67.

Synopsis

One winter morning a little boy named Peter wakes up to discover that snow has fallen during the night and covered the city. He spends his day exploring his snow-covered neighborhood by playing with his footprints, knocking snow from a tree, and making snow angels. He even tries to save a snowball overnight in his coat pocket. Young readers will enjoy following along with Peter on his snow day. The Snowy Day received the Caldecott Medal in 1963.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

The Snowy Day was the first picture book with an African American main character to win a major children’s book award. Keats has been praised for introducing multiculturalism into mainstream American children’s literature. The New York Public Library named The Snowy Day one of the 150 most influential books of the twentieth century.

9: And Then It’s Spring
Written by Julie Fogliano and Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Seasons
  • Publisher: Roaring Books Press
  • Date: 2012
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Currently residing in the Hudson Valley with her family, American author Julie Fogliano received the Ezra Jack Keats Award in 2013 for And Then It’s Spring. She is also a New York Times bestselling author for And Then It’s Spring and If You Want to See a Whale. She is also the author of the poetry collection When Green Becomes Tomatoes.

Illustrator

Born in Farmington Hills, Michigan in December 1982, American illustrator Erin E. Stead has illustrated a number of children’s books written by other authors. Her first book and collaboration with her husband, Philip C. Stead, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, received the Caldecott Medal in 2011. She met her husband in art class at Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Michigan. Her second book, And Then It’s Spring, was a runner-up for the 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Stead currently resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband.

Synopsis

After a snowy winter, a boy and his dog step out into a world of brown. The boy plants some seeds, wishes for rain, and then waits. He spends a week and then another week waiting and worrying about the seeds, hoping to finally see a bit of green. He worries that birds or bears might have disturbed his garden. But, eventually, as always, spring finally does arrive. And Then It’s Spring was named a Washington Post’s Best Kids Books and a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Children’s Books in 2012 received the Ezra Jack Keats Award in 2013.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

And Then It’s Spring was the second book illustrated by Erin E. Stead, who received a Caldecott Medal for the first book that she illustrated, A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

10: Last Stop on Market Street
Written by Matt de la Peña and Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Family, African-American Families
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  • Date: 2015
  • Page Count: 32

Author

A native of San Diego, California, American author Matt de la Peña has written several critically-acclaimed novels for young adults as well as children’s books. He earned a BA from the University of the Pacific, which he attended on a basketball scholarship, and then an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. In 2008, he published his second book, Mexican WhiteBoy, inspired by his own teenage passion for sports and Mexican heritage.

Illustrator

Based out of Sacramento, California but raised in Los Angeles, American illustrator Christian Robinson began his career in animation but later shifted to illustrating children’s books. He received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor and a Caldecott Honor for Last Stop on Market Street. He also received the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for Rain! in 2014 and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell in 2015.

Synopsis

Last Stop on Market Street tells the story of a young African-American boy named CJ and his grandmother as they travel across town on a bus after church. CJ takes in the world and asks his grandmother questions. Each answer urges him to see the beauty around him. In the end, CJ and his grandmother help out at a soup kitchen. Last Stop on Market Street received the Newbery Medal as well as a Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor, and Charlotte Zolotow Honorf in 2016, among other recognition.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Although the first Newbery Award was awarded in 1922, de la Peña is the first Latino author to win the award, which he received for Last Stop on Market Street.

11: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Written by Kevin Noble Maillard and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Fry Bread A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Indigenous Americans
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Date: 2019
  • Page Count: 48

Author

Originally from Oklahoma, American author Kevin Noble Maillard is a professor and journalist who is an enrolled citizen of the Seminole Nation, Mekusukey band. After graduating from Duke University and Penn Law School, he earned a PhD in Political Theory from the University of Michigan. He is a regular writer and former contributing editor for The New York Times. He has interviewed politicians, writers, tribal leaders, and movie stars. He has also written for The Atlantic, Essence, and The Week and provided on-air commentary for MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and Al Jazeera. He currently resides with his family on the thirteenth floor of a 115-year old bank in Manhattan in New York City. Maillard is also a tenured professor of law at Syracuse University in upstate New York.

Illustrator

Born and raised in Lima, Peru before moving to the United States, Peruvian-American illustrator and author Juana Martinez-Neal hoped to follow in the steps of her father and grandfather when she was child and become a painter. After becoming a mother, she decided to write and illustrate children’s books. She is the author of Alma and How She Got Her Name, which received a Caldecott Honor and Ezra Jack Keats Award in 2019. She also received the Pura Belpré Award in 2018 for La Princesa and the Pea. She currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband and three children.

Synopsis

Written in verse, Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story explores all that fry bread is for indigenous American peoples. Fry bread is food. But fry bread is much more than food: family, community, nation, and more. The book offers an evocative depiction of a modern Native American family, bridging diverse cultures through a common tradition. Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story received the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal and American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor in 2020.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

The tradition of fry bread developed in Native American communities in the late 1870s as a result of the foods given to indigenous people by the federal American government. Without access to indigenous crops such as corn, Native Americans embraced their communities and cultures to create a new tradition: fry bread.

12: Blueberries for Sal
Written and Illustrated by Robert McCloskey

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Family, Food
  • Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
  • Date: 1948
  • Page Count: 55

Author and Illustrator

Born in 1914, American writer and illustrator Robert McCloskey created nine picture books. He also illustrated a number of other books including the Henry Reed series by Keith Robertson. He grew up in Ohio but spent time in Boston, New York, and ultimately Maine. He studied at Vesper George Art School and the National Academy of Design. He was the first ever two-time Caldecott Medal winner, receiving the award in 1942 for Make Way for Ducklings and in 1958 for Time of Wonder. The Library of Congress declared him a Living Legend in 2000. McCloskey died in June 2003 at age 88.

Synopsis

One day Little Sal and her mother went to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries to can for the winter. At the same time, a mother bear and her cub head to the same hill to eat plenty of berries in preparation for the coming winter. Young readers will delight in following along as the two couples cross paths. Blueberries for Sal received a Caldecott Honor in 1949.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

He and his wife raised their two daughters in Maine. The books Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, Time of Wonder, and Burt Dow, Deep-water Man all took place in Maine.

13: The Little Island
Written by Margaret Wise Brown and Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Nature
  • Publisher: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
  • Date: 1946
  • Page Count: 48

Author

Born in 1910 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, author Margaret Wise Brown is best known as the writer of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. She attended Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia and graduated with a BA in English in 1932. While working at the Bank Street Experimental School in New York City and inspired by the belief that children are fascinated by the simple pleasures of the world, she began writing children’s books. Brown died in November 1952 at age 42. At the time of her death, she had written over one hundred children’s books.

Illustrator

Born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1916, award-winning illustrator and author Leonard Weisgard spent most of his childhood in England. He studied art at the Pratt Institute in New York City. His first book, Suki the Siamese Pussy, was published in 1937. During his career, he created over 200 children’s books. He worked with Brown on fourteen books including two published after her death. He died in January 2000 in Denmark at age 83.

Synopsis

The Little Island follows a little Island in the ocean surrounded completely by water through the seasons of the year. Spring brings flowers and blossoms as the tide rolls in and out. Summer brings lobsters, seals, birds, and strawberries. Summer also brings boats with people and a little kitten. The kitten at first thinks the Island, which is as little as big is big, is cut off from the rest of the world but soon learns from a fish that the Island is indeed connected to the rest of the world. The people and the kitten leave, and the Island settles into the rhythm of seasons, knowing it is good to be a world of its own and part of the bigger world.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

The Little Island was written by Margaret Wise Brown under the pseudonym Golden MacDonald. Later editions have been published under her real name.

14: The Giving Tree
Written and Illustrated by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Rhyme, Selflessness, Love
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Date: 1964
  • Page Count: 64

Author and Illustrator

Born in 1930, American author and illustrator Shel Silverstein created cartoons, songs, and children’s books. He grew up in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago and attended the University of Illinois and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts but did not graduate. He began drawing at age 7 and was first published in the Roosevelt Torch, a student newspaper at Roosevelt University. He joined the army in 1950, during which time his cartoons were published in Pacific Stars and Stripes. He published The Giving Tree in 1964 and a number of classic poetry collections including Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. Silverstein died in May 1999 at age 68 in Key West, Florida.

Synopsis

The Giving Tree follows the lives of a female apple tree and a human boy. The boy as a child enjoys playing with and in the tree. The tree is happy. As he grows up, he spends less time with the tree, visiting her only when he wants or needs something. To keep the boy happy, the tree gives him parts of herself. When the boy is finally an old man and the tree nothing but a stump, the boy returns again. The tree tells him that she has nothing left to give. The old man tells her that all he wants is a quiet place to sit and rest. In the end, the tree is happy.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Silverstein wrote the song “A Boy Named Sue,” which was popularized by musician Johnny Cash. The song won a 1970 Grammy. Silverstein was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.

15: Tikki Tikki Tembo
Written by Arlene Mosel and Illustrated by Blair Lent

Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Folktales
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
  • Date: 1968
  • Page Count: 48

Author

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1921, author Arlene Mosel graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1942 and earned a Master of Science in Library Science degree from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in 1959. In addition to her career as a children’s librarian, she wrote two award-winning children’s book. Her first book, Tikki Tikki Tembo, was recognized as an ALA Notable Book and received the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award. Her second book, The Funny Little Woman, published by E. P. Dutton, received the Caldecott Medal, among other awards. Mosel died at age 74 in May 1996 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Illustrator

Born in Boston in 1930, illustrator Blair Lent graduated from the Boston Museum School in 1953 and then went to Italy and Switzerland on a study grant. Before illustrating children’s books, he designed labels for cans and bank advertisements. He wrote his first children’s story entitled Pistachio in 1964. He published a number of books under the pen name Ernest Small. He also illustrated books for other authors including The Wave by Margaret Hodges and both of Mosel’s books. Lent died at age 79 in January 2009 in Medford, Massachusetts.

Synopsis

Mosel first heard the tale of Tikki Tikki Tembo as a child, and, when she grew up, she shared the story with her own children. According to the legend, Chinese parents gave their firstborn sons great long names. Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo and his younger brother Chang played outside every day while their mother did the wash in a nearby stream. Their mother warned them to stay away from the old well, but the boys did not listen. Luckily for Chang, his older brother is able to summon the Old Man with the Ladder quickly when Chang falls in. Tikki Tikki Tembo’s rescue is not quite as speedy due to his long name. The lesson learned is the reason that Chinese children now typically have little, short names. Tikki Tikki Tembo appeared on the list of the 50 best children’s books of the previous 50 years put out by The New York Times in 1997.

Recommended Reading

Fun Facts

Tikki Tikki Tembo has been criticized for misrepresenting Asian names. The titular name Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo is nothing like an actual Chinese name. Chang is a Chinese surname, not a first name.

The original story also most likely originated in Japan, not China. The illustrations mix up Chinese culture with Japanese culture. For example, the mother wears a dress resembling a Japanese kimono, and Tikki Tikki Tembo wears wooden sandals that resemble Japanese geta.

16: Once a Mouse
Written and Illustrated by Marcia Brown

Once a Mouse by Marcia Brown

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Folktales, Animals
  • Publisher: Scribner Press
  • Date: 1961
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in Rochester, New York in 1918, American author and illustrator Marcia Brown won the Caldecott Medal three times and received a Caldecott Honor six times. She also received the Children’s Literature Legacy Award (formerly the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award) in 1992 for her contribution to children’s literature. She attended the New York State College for Teachers and taught at Cornwall High School in New York City before beginning her writing career. She wrote and illustrated her first book, The Little Carousel, in 1946 and published over 30 titles over the course of her career. She died in April 2015 at age 96.

Synopsis

Once a Mouse follows hermit who, while contemplating about big and little, sees a mouse about to be eaten by a crow. The hermit rescues the mouse from the crow. But then a cat comes, so the hermit turns the mouse into a cat. The hermit changes the mouse into larger and larger animals until mouse-turned-tiger starts thinking too much of himself. The hermit reminds the tiger that he was once a mouse. In the end, the hermit returns the mouse to his humble beginnings.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Once a Mouse retells a fable from the Hitopadesha, an Indian text of unknown origin written in Sanskrit that consists of fables with both animal and human characters.

17: A Story, a Story: An African Tale
Written and Illustrated by Gail E. Haley

A Story, a Story An African Tale by Gail E. Haley

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Folktales
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Date: 1970
  • Page Count: 36

Author and Illustrator

Born in in Charlotte, North Carolina in November 1939, American writer and illustrator Gail E. Haley grew up with the smells and sounds of the graphic arts at The Charlotte Observer at which her father worked as the art director. She studies graphics and painting at Richmond Professional Institute and the University of Virginia (UVA). She was one of the first women enrolled at UVA. She wrote and illustrated her first book, My Kingdom for a Dragon, in 1962. Haley spent a year in the Caribbean researching the African roots of many Caribbean tales before writing A Story, a Story. She also received a Kate Greenaway Medal for The Post Office Cat in 1976.

Synopsis

A Story, a Story is a retelling of an African folktale. In the beginning, all stories belonged to Nyame, the Sky God. Nyame kept the stories in a box beside his royal throne. Ananse, the Spider man, wanted to buy the stories and spun a web to the sky. Nyame tolds Ananse that he would sell the stories in exchange for three things: a leopard, hornets, and a fairy. Using his cunning, Ananse tricks all three creatures into capture. Nyame upholds his end of the bargain and gives all his stories to Ananse, proclaiming the stories to be “Spider Stories,” thus explaining how all our stories came to be. A Story, a Story received the Caldecott Medal in 1971.

Recommended Reading

Fun Facts

A Story, a Story is a “spider tale” or “spider story,” which are found extensively in the oral traditions of West Africa. Anansi is one of the most important characters of West African, African American and Caribbean folklore. He takes many shapes, including a spider and a man, and plays the role of the trickster. Because of the African slave trade, spider stories spread beyond West Africa to places such as the Caribbean and the southern United States. Anansi has many names including Ananse, Kwaku Ananse, Anancy, Nancy, and Aunt Nancy.

18: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Written by William Joyce and Illustrated by Joe Bluhm

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publisher: Moonbot Books
  • Date: 2012
  • Page Count: 56

Author

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana in December 1957, American author and illustrator William Joyce has created over fifty children’s books to date including The Guardians of Childhood series, which inspired the 2012 film Rise of the Guardians. His books Rolie Polie Olie and George Shrinks inspired children’s television shows by the same names. His Santa Calls books served as the basis for the Christmas displays for Saks Fifth Avenue on 5th Avenue in 1994 and 1995. He received the Louisiana Writer Award in 2008. In 2006, he created the Katrinarita Gras Foundation to raise money for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He also cofounded Moonbot Studios, a storytelling and animation collection. Joyce currently resides in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Illustrator

Hailing from the little town of Laceyville, Pennsylvania, American illustrator and artist Joe Bluhm worked with author William Joyce to create The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. He works as a character designer and animator for Moonbot Studies. He has also published two art books. Bluhm currently resides in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Synopsis

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore tells the story of Morris Lessmore, a man who loved words, stories, and books. When a storm scatters everything in Morris’ world including his own story, he puts his head down and begins to wander. Then one day Morris spots a woman carried along by flying books. She realizes that Morris needed a good story, so she sends him one. He becomes the proprietor of a library, taking care of the books. After many years, he finally finishes his own story, revealing the power of a story to save the day along the way.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore inspired an animated short film in 2011. The film was awarded the Best Animated Short Film at the 84th Academy Awards.

The story began as a tribute to Bill Morris, an innovator in children’s book promotion. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the author’s home state of Louisiana, Joyce saw the power of stories to heal firsthand when he saw children reading donated books in shelters.

19: Pink Is for Boys
Written by Robb Pearlman and Illustrated by Eda Kaban

Pink Is for Boys by Robb Pearlman

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Empowerment
  • Publisher: Running Kids Press
  • Date: 2018
  • Page Count: 40

Author

Currently residing in a white and green house in New Jersey with his husband and the butterscotch-colored best puppy in the world named Oscar, author Robb Pearlman is the author of many books including Groundhog’s Day Off, Raggedy Ann and Andy: Leaf Dance, and Passover is Here! He grew up in New York City, and his current favorite color is blue.

Illustrator

Currently residing in Oakland, California with her husband, illustrator Eda Kaban has had a passion for drawing, reading, and monkey bars since a young age. She was born and raised in Turkey and now enjoys climbing rocks and biking the hills of the Bay area when not drawing. She has illustrated a number of books in addition to Pink Is for Boys.

Synopsis

Described as an “empowering and educational picture book that proves colors are for everyone, regardless of gender,” Pink Is For Boys rethinks and reframes the stereotypical blue/pink gender binary, instead encouraging all readers to identify with any and all colors of the rainbow. The sweet and simple book offers a powerful message: Life is not color-coded.

Recommended Reading

20: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Written by Judi Barrett and Illustrated by Ronald Barrett

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Date: 1978
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born in Brooklyn, New York in April 1941, author Judi Barrett earned a BFA from the Pratt Institute in 1962. She married artist Ron Barrett, who illustrated some of her most popular books. Even after their divorce, the pair continued to work together to create books. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Illustrator

Born in July 1937, artist and illustrator Ron Barrett graduated from the School of Industrial Art in New York City. He won the Gold Medal of the Art Directors Club of New York while working as an art director at Young & Rubicam and Carl Ally, but then left advertising to become an illustrator, author, and puzzle maker. He is known for illustrating the books written by his ex-wife,  Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing.

Synopsis

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs begins in an ordinary home with a grandfather making pancakes for breakfast. When he accidentally flips one onto his grandson’s head, the grandfather is inspired to tell the best bedtime tale he has ever told. The town of Chewandswallow is like any other small town — except for one thing: All the food the people eat falls from the skies. Everyone is happy in Chewandswallow until the weather takes a turn for the worse. Record-breaking pasta snarls traffic, a pancake envelops the school, and huge rolls and bread damage roofs. The sanitation department gives up trying to clean up the mess, and the residents must decide what to do to survive.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Sony Pictures Animation released an animated film adaptation of the book in 2009.

21: Sulwe
Written by Lupita Nyong’o and Illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Empowerment, Black Heritage
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
  • Date: 2019
  • Page Count: 48

Author

Born in Mexico City in March 1983 to Kenyan parents Dorothy Ogada Buyu and politician Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Kenyan-Mexican actress and author Lupita Nyong’o grew up in Kenya beginning at age 1. She attended college in the United States, earning a bachelor’s degree in film and theatre studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. She then earned a master’s degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama. In addition to writing Sulwe, Nyong’o is also an actress who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She is the first Kenyan and Mexican actress to win an Academy Award.

Illustrator

Born in Olney, Virginia in 1988, author and illustrator Vashti Harrison earned a BA from the University of Virginia with a double major in Media Studies and Studio Art with concentrations in Film and Cinematography. She also earned an MFA in Film and Video from the California Institute of the Arts. While earning her master’s degree, she snuck into animation and illustration classes to learn from Disney and DreamWorks legends. She wrote and illustrated the bestselling Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. Harrison currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Synopsis

Sulwe is a little girl who has skin the color of midnight. Her mother is the color of dawn, her father the color of dusk, and her sister the color of high noon. Receiving nicknames like Blackie and Darky and Night, Sulwe has the darkest skin in her school too. She wishes for lighter skin. As Sulwe prayers for lighter skin one night, her mother overhears her and reminds her that real beauty comes from within. When Sulwe wakes up the next day, she beams, finally believing that she belongs in the world. Sulwe received a Coretta Scott King Award Illustrator Honor in 2020.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Forbes named Nyong’o among Africa’s “50 Most Powerful Women” in 2020.

22: Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale
Written and Illustrated by Gerald McDermott

Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Folktales
  • Publisher: The Viking Press
  • Date: 1974
  • Page Count: 40

Author and Illustrator

Born in Detroit, Michigan in January 1941, American author and illustrator Gerald McDermott was a mythology expert. He started studying art at age 4 when he began taking Saturday workshops at the Detroit Institute of Arts. He received a National Scholastic Scholarship to the Pratt Institute of Design in New York City in 1959. He wrote and illustrated a number of picture books featuring folktales and mythology from around the world. His first book, Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti, received a Caldecott Honor in 1973. He also produced a number of short films based on mythology including The Stonecutter, Anansi the Spider, and Arrow to the Sun. McDermott died in December 2012 at age 71.

Synopsis

Arrow to the Sun begins with the Lord of the Sun sending the spark of life to the earth and the birth of the Boy to a young maiden. As he grows up, the other boys tease him because he has no father. So the Boy sets out to find his father. He eventually comes to an Arrow Maker who creates a special arrow and shoots the Boy to the sun. The Lord of the Sun sends the boy through four ceremonial chambers to test him. In the end, the Boy endures the trials and is sent back to earth to bring the spirit of the Sun Lord to the world. Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale received the Caldecott Medal in 1975.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Arrow to the Sun recreates an Acoma Pueblo tale that features the universal myth of the hero quest or hero journey. The book also illustrates the reverence the Pueblo people have for the source of all life, the Solar Fire.

23: Madeline
Written and Illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Family
  • Publisher: Viking Press
  • Date: 1939
  • Page Count: 54

Author and Illustrator

Born in Meran, Austria-Hungary (now Italy) in April 1898, Austrian-born American author and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans is best known for the Madeline series of children’s books. His first language was French and his second language was German. He spent most of his childhood in Regensburg, Germany but disliked school because of the rigid and authoritarian German-style of discipline. He eventually chose to move to the United States rather than attend reform school. He joined the United States Army in 1917 and became an American citizen in 1918. He published Madeline in 1939 but did not create the second book in the series until 1953. He also wrote a number of books for adults. Bemelmans died of pancreatic cancer in October 1962 in New York at age 64.

Synopsis

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines,” begins the rhymed opening lines of Madeline. The smallest girl is named Madeline. She is not afraid of mice and pooh-poohs the tiger in the zoo. She loves winter, snow, and ice. Then one night, Madeline becomes ill. Miss Clavel, a teacher at the boarding school, calls the doctor who rushes the little girl to the hospital. The other little girls visit Madeline and discover that she had her appendix out. Madeline received a Caldecott Honor in 1940.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Bemelmans claimed to have based the character of Madeline on his mother, wife, and daughter. After the author died, his grandson also stated that Madeline was partly Bemelmans himself, the smallest in the class and the one always in trouble.

24: Harry and the Terrible Whatzit
Written and Illustrated by Dick Gackenbach

Harry and the Terrible Whatzit by Dick Gackenbach

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Bravery
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • Date: 1977
  • Page Count: 40

Author and Illustrator

Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in February 1927, American author and illustrator Dick Gackenbach grew up in poverty on a farm in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. After graduating from high school in 1944, he joined the Navy and moved to California. His exposure to books and culture in San Francisco prompted him to decide to become a professional artist. After the Navy, he attended art school in Washington, D.C., and transferred to the Jameson Franklin School of Art in New York City to study graphic design. He then began a twenty-five year career in advertising, rising to the ranks of creative director. In 1972, he tired of life as a corporate executive. He retired and began creating children’s books, partially inspired by his own lack of books as a child. To date he has published over seventy titles. He currently resides in Washington Depot, Connecticut.

Synopsis

Harry was afraid of the cellar. He just knew something terrible lived down there. He warned his mother not to go down, but she had to get a jar of pickles. Harry waited. And waited. But his mother did not come back up. Harry knew he had to do something, so, setting his fears aside, he ventures downstairs where he discovers the terrible Whatzit. He confronts the beast and, in doing so, confronts his own fear.

Recommended Reading

25: This Is Not My Hat
Written and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Animals
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Date: 2012
  • Page Count: 40

Author and Illustrator

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in November 1981, Canadian author and illustrator Jon Klassen was the first to win both the American Caldecott Medal and the British Kate Greenaway Medal for This Is Not My Hat in 2012. He grew up in Niagara Falls and Toronto, Ontario. He then studied animation at Sheridan College before moving to Los Angeles, California. He worked on the animation of the films Kung Fu Panda and Coraline. To date, he has written and illustrated three children’s books and has illustrated over a dozen books for other authors.

Synopsis

This Is Not My Hat tells the story of a tiny fish with a hat. But the hat is not his. He stole the hat from a bigger fish, and he plans to hide in some plants that are big and tall and close together. The illustrations tell the real story as the tiny fish acts as an unreliable narrator. This Is Not My Hat received the Caldecott Medal in 2013.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Candlewick Press released I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat, and We Found a Hat in 2019 as a trilogy entitled Jon Klassen’s Hat Box.

26: Extra Yarn
Written by Mac Barnett and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Extra Yarn by Jon Klassen

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Fairy Tales
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray
  • Date: 2012
  • Page Count: 40

Author

Born in California and currently residing in Oakland, American author Mac Barnett graduated from Pomona College after studying under writer David Foster Wallace. He has written several children’s books including Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem and several novels including the Brixton Brothers mystery series. He founded the Echo Park Time Travel Mart, a convenience store for time travelers. Barnett also serves on the board of a nonprofit writing and tutoring center.

Illustrator

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in November 1981, Canadian author and illustrator Jon Klassen was the first to win both the American Caldecott Medal and the British Kate Greenaway Medal for This Is Not My Hat in 2012. He grew up in Niagara Falls and Toronto, Ontario. He then studied animation at Sheridan College before moving to Los Angeles, California. He worked on the animation of the films Kung Fu Panda and Coraline. To date, Klaseen has written and illustrated three children’s books and has illustrated over a dozen books for other authors including many for Mac Barnett.

Synopsis

One cold afternoon in an otherwise black-and-white town, a little girl named Annabelle found a magical box filled with yarn. She knits herself a sweater. With the extra yarn, she knits her dog a sweater. As the box continues to contain extra yarn, Annabelle knits everyone and everything in her town a sweater (except for Mr. Crabtree, who never wears pants, let alone sweaters, whom she knits a hat). When she refuses to sell the magical box to an archduke, he hires robbers to steal it. Fortunately for Annabelle, happiness cannot be stolen. Extra Yarn received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 2012 and a Caldecott Honor in 2013.

Recommended Reading

27: The Rough Patch
Written and Illustrated by Brian Lies

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Death, Bereavement
  • Publisher: Greenwillow Books
  • Date: 2017
  • Page Count: 40

Author and Illustrator

Born in Princeton, New Jersey in 1963, American author and illustrator Brian Lies has been interested in art since childhood. He studied literature and psychology at Brown University and created political cartoons for the student newspaper. After the art director for children’s books at Houghton Mifflin approached him because she liked the way in which he portrayed emotions on animal faces, he illustrated the first book in the Flatfoot Fox series by Eth Clifford. He has written and illustrated a number of his own books and created the illustrations for many other authors. He also illustrates for the children’s magazines Spider, Ladybug, and Babybug. He currently resides in eastern Massachusetts.

Synopsis

Evan and his dog do everything together but especially loved tending their garden together. One day, the unthinkable happens, and Evan’s dog dies. Evan lays his beloved pet to rest in the corner of his garden. While mourning his loss, Evan also destroys everything in his garden. Prickly, stinky, and otherwise nasty weeds pop up, which Evan takes care of, making his garden an unfriendly place. Then a pumpkin vine sneaks, and Evan decides to leave the prickly, spiderly plant be. Soon a huge pumpkin grows, which Evan enters in a fair. He wins third place and brings home an unexpected friend. The Rough Patch received a Caldecott Honor in 2018.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Lies received the Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award in 2010 for his book Bats in the Library. Other books in the series include Bats in the Ballgame, Bats at the Beach, and Bats in the Band.

28: The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant
Written and Illustrated by Jean de Brunhoff

The Story of Babar The Little Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff

  • Age: 4
  • Genre: Animals
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Date: 1933
  • Page Count: 56

Author and Illustrator

Born in Paris, France in December 1899, French author and illustrator Jean de Brunhoff is best known for his Babar series of children’s books. The son of a publisher, he studied painting at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. He married Cécile Sabouraud in 1924 and had three sons including Laurent, who revived the Babar series after Jean’s death. The story of Babar began as a bedtime story that Cécile created for her two oldest sons. The boys enjoyed the story so much that they asked their father for illustrations. Jean turned the bedtime story into a picture book. He wrote a total of seven Babar books before his death from tuberculosis in October 1937 at age 37.

Synopsis

The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant tells the story of a little elephant named Babar who lives in a great forest with his mother. When a hunter kills his mother and tries to catch him too, Babar runs away and ends up in a city. He encounters an Old Lady, who outfits him in a fine suit and invites him to live with her. After a while and at the urging of his cousins who have ventured from the jungle to find him, Babar decides to return to life with the elephants. When he arrives, he learns that the old king died after eating a bad mushroom. The other elephants chose Babar, who has knowledge from living in the city, as their new king. Babar marries another elephant named Celeste, beginning the reign of Babar the King.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant was originally written in French and published as Histoire de Babar. The title page was supposed to read “as told by Jean and Cécile de Brunhoff,” but Cécile had her name omitted. She is sometimes identified as the creator of the Babar story.

Image Credits

All images via Amazon

Books You Gotta Read: Age 4

Written by Heather Johnson

Heather is a writer, librarian, linguist, wife, and mother who loves her husband, children, dogs, and cats. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in creative writing and master's degrees in library and information science and English studies with a concentration in linguistics.

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