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Wednesday, January 10, 2007  

Kid Lit

Don't get us wrong; we're thrilled that M. Small loves books. We just wish he loved better books. Would it kill him to sit through a few pages of Robert B. Parker at bedtime? The chapters are short and everything.

Okay, we really shouldn't complain, especially given how much he loves his board books by Sandra Boynton and Kit Allen. We love those too. Here are a few we don't love:

That's Not My Car!

The story, such as it is, gets going right on the cover when the book's mouse protagonist observes of the car next to him, "Its windows are too shiny!" The quest continues within the pages, as the mouse eliminates additional cars from being his, by virtue of the door being too rough, the hubcaps being too lumpy, et cetera. And each of these qualities is demonstrated right on the page, for M. Small to touch.

Lately, we've taken to letting him finish each sentence with an adjective of his own choosing. It's like Mad Libs with a two-year-old. "Its tires are sooo…." "Hungry!"

It's important to point out that none of these cars could possibly be confused with each other; every one is a different color and model from all of the others. There's even a giant pink DeSoto-looking thing whose radiator is toooooo bumpy (it always takes a supreme effort on my part to read this page as, "That's not my car! Its tail fins are tooooo cheesy).

Finally, the mouse finds his car. "That's my car!" he rejoices. "Its bumper is so squashy."

The mouse's car, by the way, is a blue jeep. The only blue vehicle in the book, and the only jeep. Also, if I haven't mentioned it, all of the cars are car-sized, and the mouse is, if not mouse-sized, kitten-sized at best. I don't see how he expects to reach the steering wheel or the pedals. Or the door handle, for that matter.

Furthermore, if you need to identify your car strictly by tactile criteria, maybe you shouldn't be driving in the first place. Let's hope his bumpers are very squashy indeed.

I See You

I can't decide whether M. Small's love for Dick and Jane books is hopelessly square or defiantly retro. He has two of them, and the one currently in rotation is the one where Jane and Sally trick Dick into finding their dolls instead of themselves. End of story. At least it's better than Come and Go, the one where Mother gets all dressed up and walks off alone without a look back all Julianne Moore in The Hours, forcing her abandoned children to pursue her down the street. She pretends like she was just going to the market, but we know better.

Come and Go also features one of those not-so-rare occasions where the dialogue goes past stilting and straight into disturbing: "Come, Sally! Come! Come! Come! Come, Sally, Come!"

The Very Busy Spider

Eric Carle hit gold with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and he seems to have been coasting on ripoffs of himself ever since. This one is about a spider with Asperger's syndrome who ignores all of the barnyard animals that want to include her in their activities because she's got her hands full gumming up a fence. Two things make it bearable: M. Small knows all the animal sounds, so he can "read" the beginning of each page. And you can survive the seven mind-drilling repetitions of the sentence "She was very busy spinning her web" by stressing a different word on each page. "She was very busy spinning her web…She was very busy spinning her web…still not sleepy?"

Thank God for books like Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (or "Pigeon School Bus" as he calls it), which is more like a very short graphic novel. And thank God for the fact that he likes going to bed earlier now.

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posted by M. Giant 4:59 PM 26 comments


Topping my list of books my kid loved at 2+ and I, not so much -- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Chicka Chicka 1-2-3. Cute in concept, but didn't hold up so well to the million repeated readings he demanded. Also a squicky moralistic tome about sharing called "First Friends" that his grandparents gave him. "You can see my truck." "Wanna hold my duck?"

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 10, 2007 at 7:02 PM  

Oh, M. Giant, you don't know me from Adam, but I must recommend a book for you and M. Small to read together: Charlie Parker Played Bebop, by Chris Raschka. It has jazz and pigeons and a cat and nonsense rhymes and the best illustrations EVER.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 10, 2007 at 7:15 PM  

I really, really recommend any of Babette Cole's books (The Trouble With My Mother, The Trouble With My... etc.) as funny and actually good.

The other really obvious one is Each Peach Pear Plum, which I can still say off by heart, and is fun to read to kids. It's almost standard in any children's library, and usually a favourite read (between a simple rhyme and a beginner's Where's Wally -- "Each Peach Pear plum, I spy Tom Thumb, Tom Thumb in the Cupboard, I spy Mother Hubbard...")

I also have to strongly recommend the Jolly Postman books (Janet and Allan Ahlberg). They're sweet and fun -the postman delivers letters to people like Cinderella, Jack, the Giants, and it has the letters (or little puzzles or whatever was being delivered) in teh book as well.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 1:34 AM  

Hmmmmm, I think I'd have to vote for the classic Go, Dog. Go! as our least favorite kids' book that is oft-requested by our kiddo. "Do you like my hat?" "No! I do not like that hat!" "Goodbye!" "Goodbye!" I mean, seriously, WTH? (And that isn't even how "goodbye" is spelled in the book, but I refuse to spell it any other way.) There's another Eastman classic that is right up there on the ick list for us too - Big Dog, Little Dog, but other Eastman books are on our favorites list (Snow and The Best Nest for example), so we can't just ban the author in question.

Among our favorite kids' books that are new to us (ie they're not holdovers from the 70s when we were small) are Bear Snores On and Hilda Must Be Dancing, both by Karma Wilson. I once, being ever-so-kewl, recited all of Hilda from memory while out with some of my former work colleagues. I'm guessing they took it as more of a "Poor woman, this is what her life has sunk to" tsk-tsk sort of thing than the "see how amazing I am and isn't this a cute story" sort of thing I was going for with my recitation..............

By Blogger Heather, at January 11, 2007 at 5:02 AM  

I have to admit, two of my favorite books to read my kids are mentioned above as non-favorites - Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Go, Dog, Go. The rhymes in Chicka Chicka seems to roll off your tongue, and you get a healthy dose of the ABC's. And Go, Dog, Go was the first "long" book that my toddler was able to sit through, and we love anything by Eastman (aka Dr. Suess). But one of my least favorite books is also a Dr. Suess book - Fox in Socks. The rhymes definitely do not roll of your tongue. Also on the least favorite list - the books you get after seeing Santa at the mall. Just imagine mall-themed books called "Giving" and "Sharing".

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 5:57 AM  

I love Go, Dog, Go. I can even still recite some of the lines, 20 some odd years later. ("To the tree! To the tree! To the top of the tree! It was a dog party! Big dogs, little dogs!")

But I must recommend all the books by Kevin Henkes. I love his mice drawings and Lilly and the Purple Plastic Purse, Owen, Chrysanthemum, etc. are all awesome. And he's from the Midwest -- Madison, Wisconsin!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 6:24 AM  

You know which book we hate at our house? The Runaway Bunny. HATE. IT.
We don't like the message, we don't like the writing, and we don't like the pictures. Darling boy, on the other hand, loves it.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 7:37 AM  

Wow, who can resist commenting on kids' books? Clearly not me, either! I'll cast a vote for the Chicka-Chicka oeuvre. I only wish there were more of them. My current favorites of my 3-year-old's collection are the Frog and Toad books, Caps For Sale, and Leo the Late Bloomer. Caps is probably number one because we get to watch him act out all the arm shaking and foot-stomping and it's unbelievably cute. For us.

Books I don't like so much - Zack's Alligator. It just doesn't work for me. Oh, and the companion to your car book, "That's Not My Truck." How that mouse got a class B license, I'll never know.

By Blogger Unknown, at January 11, 2007 at 8:37 AM  

I have to second the recommendation of Keving Henkes. The illustrations contain little in-jokes for the parents too.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 12:00 PM  

My favorite books to read my little ones were "Green Eggs and Ham", which I can still recite word perfect, and "The Monster at the End of This Book" starring lovable, furry, old Grover. My kids loved turning the pages and watching Grover/Mommy become increasingly hysterical about reaching the end. Um, probably not a good bedtime story, though.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 12:20 PM  

There are some great adoption kids books out there, and some terrible ones. I don't know if you have them already, but Jamie Lee Curtis wrote a great one.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 12:29 PM  

I'm with you on the first two, but I have to disagree with your dislike of The Very Busy Spider. With infants/toddlers that book is even better than The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It is possibly one of my favorite books to read with my little ones. (I'm an infant teacher) Because all the animals and animal sounds are recognizable, the kids can practically read it themselves and they get very into making the animal sounds. Plus, because it does repeat itself, you don't have to put as much effort into reading it.
Other favorite board books in my room are Goodnight Moon, Tumble Bumble, Alligator Pie (though I think that's a Canadian thing) and The Eensy Weensy Spider (which is basically the song with about a million extra verses)
Of course we all love Chicka Chicka Boom.

By Blogger Shannon, at January 11, 2007 at 2:55 PM  

You totally have to get the Max the Bunny books by Rosemary Wells--cute and funny and the one about the dragon shirt even has an iron on transfer, so, rock on. Also the Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban because they have silly little songs about toast.

My mother in law loooooves Goodnight Moon and always insists I read it to my nephew because I'm "such a good reader." I. hate. that. book.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 3:28 PM  

Sandra Boynton....I haven't thought of her in a long time. I painted huge Boynton animals on the walls of my daughter's nursery back when I was young and had time to do crap like that. One of my hobbies is collecting all of the children's books I loved and grew up with and then shared them with my child; she also has fond memories of these:
Dogzilla or Catzilla,
All of the Hoben's'Frances'books
Lyle, Lyle Crocodile
Harry the Dirty Dog books
Frog and Toad books
Little Fur Family
All of the Jolly Postman books
Max the Bunny books
The one book that I adored but she begged me " Mommy PLEASE DON'T read the book that makes you cry...Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.
It is a good cry.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 9:51 PM  

Hairy Maclary by Lynley Dodd.

I grew up on these books, and to this day my mum can recite them. They're wonderful, wonderful books of which I have most fond memories.

Also, the Little Critter series by Mercer Meyer.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 11, 2007 at 10:14 PM  

My favorite book as a toddler was "Milkman Bill." (Now out of print, I believe.) My parents made it "disappear" behind a couch, and we didn't find it until I was five. I was happy to find it...my parents were decidedly not.

By Blogger Currer813, at January 12, 2007 at 5:10 AM  

When I was a kid, I loved the Anatole books, written by Eve Titus and illustrated to great effect by Paul Galdone. Anatole is a mouse who works anonymously in a French cheese factory, and who is devoted to his (large) family. Unfortunately, many of these books are now out of print, but they can often be found used.

Also awesome are "The Amazing Bone" and "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble," both by William Steig.

- Kiarnit

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 12, 2007 at 7:46 AM  

Another series that was a huge hit with my kids at that age were the "Sam" books by Barbro Lindgren. "Sam's Cookie", "Sam's Ball", etc.; Sam is an adorably grubby little guy whose companion is his dog. Things like this happen: Sam gets a cookie, it's a good cookie, doggie take's Sam's cookie, conflict ensues...They are very cute & toddlers relate to the stories; fun for the grownup reading it, too.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 12, 2007 at 10:35 AM  

Having worked in a bookstore that focused on children's books:
Little Bunny on the Move and Hondo and Fabian by Peter McCarty are beautiful books and have great stories.
All of the Gaspard and Lisa books, and Close Your Eyes (an amazing bedtime book) illustrated by George Hallensleben and (the latter) writen by Katie Banks are again some of the most beautifully illustrated books I have ever read and have wonderful stories.
We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen is a terrible bedtime book but is a classic and fun to read (at least the first 50 times) and is fun to act out.

I have to say though, Love You Forever creeps me out to the Nth degree and is on the short list of childrens books I abhor.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 12, 2007 at 2:38 PM  

Possibly a bit too old for M.Small right now, but if you get a chance, grab any of the books Fred Gwynne wrote (Yes, that Fred Gwynne.)

The King who Rained
A Chocolate Moose for Dinner
A Little Pigeon Toad
Easy to See Why

And it's not a book itself, but the long-ish poem The Fly-away Horse by Eugene Field was the go-to-sleep-now night-time story for both my sister and I.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 12, 2007 at 2:42 PM  

"Love You Forever" is kind of mushy/creepy, but the rest of Robert Munsch's stuff is pretty funny and entertaining. My almost-two-year-old loves them right now and I don't mind repeated readings either, although even the best kids' books get boring when you have to read them four times a day.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 12, 2007 at 5:15 PM  

I'm glad to see someone else feels the same way about "Love Your Forever"! I was all misty until the last third, where it gets weird.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 13, 2007 at 12:18 PM  

I see lots of others have suggested books. I'm not going to suggest a book. I am going to say that I bought my friend's child "That's Not My Snowman!" for his birth, and it follows the same theme (obviously): arms too lumpy, nose too squashy, mittens too fuzzy, etc. But no mouse protagonist.

I've read it to him a lot.

By Blogger Adia, at January 13, 2007 at 4:04 PM  

I teach preschool and my three year olds love Each Peach Pear Plum, and their two new favs are Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, about a boy who finds a penguin at his door, and Little Pea, about a pea who has to eat all his candy for dinner before he can eat his spinach. They both have great illustrations!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 14, 2007 at 4:42 PM  

My parents won't let me forget how much they HATE Curious George Takes a Job.


"It goes on forever," my mother moaned this Christmas. Did I mention I'm 37? And there are no grandkids? Sheeesh!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 14, 2007 at 5:02 PM  

I highly, highly recommend "Those Can Do Pigs" by David McPhail. It was one of those books you happen upon by accident, and it's so cute and funny. I'd never heard of the author before, but knowing what I've read about M. Small's personality, he'd love it (and it's parent-friendly, too).

Kat from Jersey

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 25, 2007 at 12:36 PM  

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