This explains Austin's obsessions with Richard Scarry's Postman Pig (apparently out of print -- there's a used copy on Amazon for $120!) and You Can Name 100 Trucks. As Emily Bazelon in her article whines, "But there's no story there!"
To be fair to him, Austin has recently really gotten into stories, especially stories about Greek myths and monsters, nursery tales and folk tales like Baba Yaga. What does this mean? Well, I should point out that he doesn't listen to the stories of the monsters so much as listen for information. He is memorizing what a Basilisk is, or who Medusa is. And he'll quiz me later. "Daddy, who killed Medusa?" Me: "Hercules?" Him: "No! It was Perseus!"
We're also kind of squeamish about reading him stories about beheadings and too much monster stuff because it freaks him out, but a few books tell the story vaguely enough that it's not that horrifying. Here are some suggestions of Greek stories appropriate for the 3 and under set:
Greece! Rome! Monsters! by John Harris has excellent pictures by Calef Brown. The text describes each creature and maybe a story about them in a breathless, supermarket tabloid way:
"every time Phineus started to eat, the Harpies would swoop down and, well, make a mess in his food. Result: a very skinny Phineus."The back of the book has a pronounciation guide. There's a puzzle based on the artwork, too -- that's the one Austin is obsessed with and got us on this Greek kick. This is kind of encyclopedia style -- Austin looks up the monsters on his puzzle in the book. Bibliographic research! Iconography!
Greek Myths by Geraldine McCaughrean has very clear illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark. These are retellings of stories and Austin likes them as background, I think. He likes to hear more about the cyclops and Odysseus, for example.
And I just checked The One-Eyed Giant and Other Monsters from the Greek Myths out from the library. It looks to be similar to Greece! Rome! Monsters! with one or two pages on each creature with some story. The pictures are more representational and less fanciful and colorful than Calef Brown's.