Children's Lit and other pitfalls

on 10 September 2010

My friend Sarah, after long years of trying, is with child.  I'm happy to bursting.  She's a fellow comp. lit. graduate and so I wanted to take a moment to share some of my strong but otherwise superfluous opinions about children's books for her so that she can get her library in order.

Board Books

Good Stuff:

There's a lot of good stuff out there.  For board books I love Sandra Boynton, you can't go wrong with anything she writes or records (she does MUSIC people!  Kids music that doesn't make you want to bang your head against the wall!).  And Eric Carle is the other standard in our house, the Boy went through an absolute obsession with the Very Hungry Caterpiller and he's also thoroughly loved the Very First Book of...series.  There's the Very First Book of Shapes, Colors and Numbers, I think.  He likes them all.  We also deeply love Tommie de Paola here.  He does a lot of old nursery rhymes and children's poetry.

Not so Good Stuff:

The Baby Einstein stuff drives me crazy.  I don't believe in television for BABIES for crying out loud.  That's why they have PARENTS.  And even the Baby Einstein books make me crazy.  The Boy was given a box of alphabet books made by Baby Einstein and I LOATHE them.  But he loves them and so they're the one book I let him use and abuse at will.  He's bent them and built towers with them and chewed them and I cheerfully look forward to the day when I can dump the whole mess of them in recycling.

Other than Board Book--Picture Books:

Good Stuff:

The thing that makes me sad about picture books is that most authors seem to be a little inconsistent.  I found this wonderful book called Tim and the Blanket Thief by Jim Prater at the library, but when I went back and checked out more Jim Prater books they were AWFUL.  So picture books can sometimes be hit or miss.  You can't go wrong with Dr. Seuss unless it's wrong by age.  The Boy LOVES Go, Dog, Go!  And the ABC book but still doesn't have the time of day for the Cat in the Hat.  He loves the Little Red Hen and Corduroy and the Big Hungry Bear and the Wishing of Biddy Malone and there's a series of books Mr. Happy, Mr. Funny, Mr. Grumpy by Roger Hargreaves that we LOVE--they're funny and whimsical.  We also deeply love the Thomas the Tank Engine series.  They're wonderful books, and they teach the value of hard work, cleanliness, honesty, cheerfulness and obedience.  I LOVE them. 

Not so Good Stuff:

He was starting an obsession with Curious George but I've nipped that one in the bud.  I HATE Curious George and I'll tell you why--this dumb little chimp (that they PERSIST in calling a monkey) is routinely disobedient, causes chaos and wreckage and instead of being PUNISHED he's REWARDED!  HATE HATE HATE.  So I pulled all of the Curious George books that we had (some bought and some were given) and I gave them to Goodwill.  I'm sure there are other mothers out there who don't think this is a big deal.  I'm also not a huge fan of books based off of movies.  I made the mistake of buying him these two books that are basically a dumbed down and illustrated re-telling of Cars (for he LOVES the movie), but they are just dumb.  dumb. dumb.  And I'm wishing for my $10 back.  I also have a deep and serious loathing of books that require a lot of sound affects.  My sister, in a fit of HATING us, gave us an Old MacDonald had a Farm book and I REFUSE to read it to him.  The Boy loves it, so it's a daddy-book.  I have NEVER understood the love affair with Where the Wild Things Are.  I don't get it.  Thus, I don't care about it.

Other than Picture Books--young readers:

Technically, the Boy isn't a young reader yet, but he wants to read longer than picture books.  So we've started reading the Henry and Mudge books and we LOVE LOVE LOVE them.  We've also started Days with Frog and Toad which we also really like.  I've also found that the Boy loves poetry--there's something with the rhythm that he really enjoys.  My sister gave us Hail Stones and Halibut Bones which is so much a favorite that I have most of the poems memorized.  We also deeply love a Family of Poems by Caroline Kennedy.  I keep trying to read Shel Silverstein to him, having loved his books much as a child myself, but so far the Boy isn't going for it.

Anyway, there's not much point to this post, but to give you a jumping off point for a library for your future tot.  I was super lucky in that my sister gave me a TON of books that her kids had out-grown.  And what she didn't give me, she told me about.

One last word on reading to your child.  All of the hoity-toity parenting books talk a lot about reading to your child from the very beginning and I agree with that.  But maybe not for the reasons they would give you.  Here's the thing.  I got home with the Boy and had NO IDEA what to do with him!  I knew that I needed to cuddle him and feed him and keep him clean, but beyond that...I was at a loss.  And when in doubt, I generally fall back to books.  So I read to him.  A LOT.  But not cheezy, hokey kids books.  I read him Dickens.  Austen.  Gaskell.  Shakespeare.  I kept a small stash of books that I really loved and found comforting at every spot in our apartment where I stopped to nurse him or comfort him and when I was tired and frustrated and at a total loss, I picked one up and read to him from it.  It calmed us both down, it was soothing and reassuring and he loved just listening to the sound of my voice.  So, when you get down to the last few weeks of your pregnancy, go through your books.  Make small piles of 2-3 books and stash them next to couch or chair, on a shelf near a rocking chair, in your bedside table and when you're so tired you think your going to melt into a puddle of goo and you just can't go on, pull one out and open at random and read aloud to your wee babe.  It will comfort you both.

I'm beyond over-the-moon happy for you two.  Your life is about to change beyond recognition, but it's also about to get sweeter and more beautiful than you knew it could be.


Miss Sarah in Georgia said...

Thank you friend. Your recommendations and advice are a breath of fresh air and very welcome.

Dr. Seuss will be a staple in our house--growing up, my dad refused to read anything to us that wasn't Dr. Seuss. And it had to be the real thing, not just with his logo on something. The Boy may not be ready for The Cat in the Hat, but he may like One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. We have that one here and it gets read a lot to the nieces and nephews, ages 4 and under.

Have you heard of The Paperbag Princess? It has a strong princess who decides she doesn't need to bother with a prince who is judgmental about her. Another reading friend loves it and recommends it. It is probably more interesting to girls than it will be to your boy, but it may be worth keeping in mind.

Rae said...

Reading Magic by Mem Fox is one of my favorite books about the importance of and the who-what-where-when-why of reading to kiddos. I lurve it.

For me, the love affair with Wild Things is about a child needing to relate to being misunderstood. I think they've always got a reason for acting out, and Max learns that even though he may act out and want to escape, he always has a safe place to come home to. Just my take on it, though.

Brett said...

I never thought about Curious George that way, but you're so right. And thanks for the pointers about poetry. That's something I've never done much with my kids, but I'll definitely start now.

Cel and JP said...

I am with you on Where the Wild Things Are. The story is pretty sad when you break it down and as a child, the illustrations haunted me. Two of my favorite's for little ones I got from a dear friend who used to live here: Only You (love the meter and LOVE reading those sweet words to my babies) and Racoon's Big Question for the same reasons - AND Racoon has gorgeous illustrations and what Mama doesn't love to hear her daughter croon, "Mommy, read wah-coom book?" I'm really excited for when Elena is closer to Brett's daughter's age (ie attention span) so we can devour some older-kid-books together. Alert me when you do a post on those. I have LOTS of opinions! P.S. Not that you'd be interested, but the Curious George tv show doesn't let him get away with nearly as much and makes him fix his mistakes. But I know what you mean about the books. And as a child, books where the main character does nothing but cause trouble stressed me out to no end. The beginning seeds of neuroses? Prolly :)