Reading to my Kid <$BlogRSDURL$>

 / . Reflections on children's literature and the process of reading aloud, which is both political and emotional.
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Friday, April 30, 2004

Scribbling Woman's Children's Book Addendum 

Click here to read Scribbling Woman's addendum to my children's book canon (below). She very rightly (in my opinion) adds Peggy Rathmann's Good Night Gorilla -- and she provides cover art for everything on her list.

She also adds Doggies, by Sandra Boynton, which is awesome and fun to read aloud.
The Mitten, by Jan Brett, is another addition. Tulip is frightened by this one; it has a big sneeze in it.

Also, she smartly notes that A Color of His Own (by Leo Lionni) has a "rainbow message." I completely agree. A lonely chameleon tries to change his nature, attempting to remain one color while it's normal for him to change colors. Eventually, he finds a fellow chameleon, and they agree to spend their lives together. With all the controversy over King & King's gay marriage, this book is supportive of anyone doing whatever feels natural to him, and finding a life partner to do it with.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Amazing Grace 

re: music

Tulip and I got on the rush-hour subway the other day. Her in the backpack carrier. The train starts. It's packed. And her little, off-key voice pipes up:

Aaaaaaaamazing grace
How seet da sound
Dat saved a wetch like me!
was bind, but now, I see!

We have the Elvis Presley version. It's currently her favorite song. She likes spirituals in general. Other favorites include "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham," which she knows from watching Alvin Ailey's Revelations on DVD, and "This Little Light of Mine."

My immediate family practices no particular religion.

I read one of my books to a group of Carribean-American school children the other day, and as part of the discussion, after asking them each what their favorite food was (most popular answer: pizza) and their favorite color (most popular answer: purple), I asked them if they had a favorite thing of all the things in the world there were to like.

The first boy I called on said "God."
Then every single other child said, God, too. Or Jesus.
A couple said things like "Jesus and my XBox." or "My cat and Jesus."

Monday, April 26, 2004

Book Meme -- Revised 

A book meme that's scooting around the blogosphere (I found it at Scribbling Woman) has bloggers posting a long list of classic novels and putting those they've read in bold-face type. It's a pretty canonical list -- Shakespeare, Dickens, all that kind of thing. Stuff you're kind-of embarassed if you haven't read -- though of course there are many on there that I haven't.

Here's my similar list of children's picture book titles, in something vaguely resembling chronological order. A canon, of sorts. Excluding fairy tales. I've read them all -- because I'm a smartypants and it's my list. But you, too, can read them all in about five minutes each, so what are you waiting for!?

Instructions: if you're inclined, take the list -- bold those you've read, and add some commentary if you have any (I'd love to see what some readers think of these books) and post it on your blog. Or email it to me, if you haven't got one.

Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag
Angus and the Ducks, by Marjorie Flack
Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina
The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes, by Phyllis Krasilovsky
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton
Babar, by Jean de Brunhoff
Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans
The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown
Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss
Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban, illus. Lillian Hoban
Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson
A Hole is to Dig, by Ruth Krauss, illus. Maurice Sendak
In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
George and Martha, by James Marshall
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion, illus. Margaret Bloy Graham
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, by Charlotte Zolotow, illus. Maurice Sendak
Ira Sleeps Over, by Bernard Waber
A Color of His Own, by Leo Lionni
A Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats
The Beast of Monsieur Racine, by Tomi Ungerer
Strega Nona, by Tomi De Paola
Eloise, by Kay Thompson, illus. Hilary Knight
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? Bill Martin Jr., illus Eric Carle
Freight Train, by Donald Crews
Frog and Toad are Friends, by Arnold Lobel
Jamberry, by Bruce Degan
First Tomato, by Rosemary Wells
Hondo & Fabian, by Peter McCarty
My Friend Rabbit, by Eric Rohmann
Tuesday, by David Wiesner
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, by Lloyd Moss, illus. Marjorie Priceman
Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, by Chris Rashka

Reading to Herself 

Tulip has just begun to "read" to herself -- meaning look at books and babble something as she turns the pages. I know other toddlers who have been doing this for months and months; but Tulip seems to prefer to pretty much have it memorized before she attempts reading on her own. I can hear her muttering phrases from whatever book she's looking at. She won't try to do a NEW book on her own. It's as if she wants to get it right -- and that's more important to her than the idea of pretending to read.

At least one of her friends is the opposite: she'll just grab any book, open it, flip the pages, and talk to herself in a loud voice; the PRETENDING TO READ is clearly much more important to her than accuracy.

Tulip and I went to the library last week with a group that included a first grader who kindly read Tulip lots of stories. Ever since then, Tulip has been saying "I learning to read. I'm a big girl."

Saturday, April 24, 2004

LA Times Festival of Books 

Well, you can't accuse the LA Times Festival of Books (going on right now) of being overly highbrow; nor of being overly populist. The list of authors appearing includes the following people who write for young audiences:
Betsey Lewin
Jennifer Donnelly
David Shannon
Anita Silvey
Francesca Lia Block
Richard Peck
Sandra Cisneros
and R.L. Stine.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Guess How Much I Love You 

A hugely popular book. And I was surprised how much I liked it -- until last weekend, when a (male) friend of mine said he hates it.
What's to hate? I asked.
He said he thinks it's disgusting how the dad (big nutbrown hare) is always in competition with his boy (little nutbrown hare), and won't let him win. He can hop higher than his kid; he can stretch his arms wider; he can always think of something that is bigger than what the child has thought of. My friend said, it doesn't matter that it's all in the name of expressing love. What matters is that the guy doesn't give his kid a break.

I think he's got a point. It's all sour for me, now.
(if you need a plot summary of THIS book, I can't think why you're reading this blog. It's been on the bestseller list forever and ever).

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Scarlette Beane, by Karen Wallace, illustrated by Jon Berkeley 

This book is hard for Tulip to understand, but I love it. I've never heard of Wallace or Berkeley before. We got it at the library.
Scarlette is born not just with a green thumb -- but with green fingers. Her parents, who live in a small shak the size of a garden hut and spend most of their time outdoors, know she'll do something wonderful some day. And she does.
When she is five, she is given her own little garden, and she plants some veggies. The next day, they are so enormous the parsley has to be cut down with chain saws. The whole town helps harvest them, and they make vegetable soup and everyone eats outdoors.
That night, Scarlette gets up in the middle of the night and plants some seeds on a hilltop near her tiny home. The next morning, they have grown in to a palace made of vegetables: a new house for her family.
The final, word-less page, shows her parents lugging their stuff in a wheelbarrow, walking to the new house as the sun sets.

I just love the way the girl solves a problem and gives a gift to her parents. It's such a lovely fantasy -- and one I wish I could do. What I wouldn't give to be able to buy my father a house.

Monday, April 19, 2004

On a side note: Music and High Culture 

When Tulip was about six months old, I sent around the monthly email I send to out-of-town family, detailing her exploits. I reported that her favorite CD was the soundtrack to Grease -- original Broadway production. One of her great-grandmothers emailed back (yes, great-grandmothers on email!) saying, had I had her listen to Mozart or Bach? Because she might like real music, too, you know.

Real music. Now, the Grease Soundtrack is, I agree, of questionable merit. But to my mind, it is still REAL music, just like Bach. Music is music. I tend to think of any music as good for Tulip, unless it really grates on me like a few children's singers do. (Although upon reflection that's not entirely true; it does give me pleasure to see Tulip singing Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm!" as opposed to "Elmo's Song" -- which is, in it's own way, just the same cultural snobbery as Great Grandmother and her Bach.)

But with books, I am much, much more of an open snob. I think bad books (meaning badly written books, like Arthur's New Puppy, by Marc Brown, a current Tulip library favorite; and books with bad messages, like Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister) are dulling the soul and poisoning the mind. And I think consistent exposure to good literature can really open up the world for a child, and contribute significantly to their emotional and artistic development.

With music, I figure, hey -- if she likes it, yippee.

Do I think differently about music because I know nothing about it? Frankly, I don't know what would constitute "good" music for someone Tulip's age, at all. Or is it that music is fundamentally different from literature, somehow?

Friday, April 16, 2004

Good Early Books 

The Magnificent Octopus (see sidebar for link) worries that her 17-month old isn't interested in being read to. I've got no solutions, but I do have have a list of books Tulip was and is crazy for -- a list for the very youngest of readerse -- many of which have worked with less-enthusiastic readers we know. All are available as board books.

Moo, Baa, La La La -- by Sandra Boynton. Even one-year-olds can memorize the animal sounds in this text. They all seem to love it.

My Fuzzy Friends -- by Tad Hills. It invites the kids to touch fuzzy animals with their noses, toes, etc.

Jamberry -- by Bruce Degan. Very appealing rhythm for read-aloud. Tulip's first book-love.

Goodnight Gorilla -- by Peggy Rathmann. Very few words, but lots of appeal.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt -- by Michael Rosen, illus. by Helen Oxenbury. It's long, so you might think it more appropriate for older children -- but the repetition and the rhythm really got Tulip excited, even when very young.

Go Dog Go! By P.D. Eastman. Great rhythmic text, funny dogs. Tulip would ask for it by saying "Gugugo!"

Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings by Matthew Van Fleet. This one has fold-outs and fuzzy bits. It took quite a beating. My husband was annoyed by it, but Tulip went wild.

Pat the Bunny. But this is obvious.

I could go on and on, but this is a start.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Peggy Rathmann 

This book, a delight. The narrator -- a five year-old would-be scientist -- is tortured by Bootsie, who keeps claiming she is a dinosaur and will eat the narrator. Finally, our heroine thinks of a new game: paleontology. Dinosaur-Bootsie is frightened, and runs away, hopefully never to return.

I love how unapologetic it is. You don't have to play with kids you don't like. You don't have to understand where they're coming from. You don't have to learn that they are human and really nice on the inside. What you have to do is stand up for yourself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Nearest Book 

From my latest blog discovery, Magnificent Octopus, a small fortune-telling diversion, liable to yield interesting results if your house, like mine, is littered with literature for the under-5 set.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

Result: "I am angry." from Clarice Bean, That's Me, by Lauren Child.


Allen Kurzweil, James Stevenson, Clare Newberry 

Sorry not to have posted the past few days. Life intervened. And Tulip has suddenly started taking forever and a day to go to bed at night, so energy levels are low.

But I really like this little essay by Allen Kurzweil, author of Leon and the Spitting Image (for children) plus two novels for adults: The Grand Complication and A Cabinet of Curiosities. Apropos of my earlier post on Mark Haddon, it's interesting to read about why Kurzweil decided to start writing for children, and how the novel developed.

Monty by James Stevenson just arrived in the mail today. I bought a cheapo copy from Amazon -- I think it was literally two cents, plus shipping. I don't know why people are bothering to sell, but I'm glad to buy. It's a great story with a great Alligator. Tulip is alligator-mad at the moment.

Oh, and Herbert the Lion arrived as well! See earlier post on him. Newberry is in fine form here; it's the 1956 revision (the final one), reprinted in 1998. It's BIG, too. Bigger than your average picture book, and full of humor and wonder.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Mark Haddon 

Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime won two British Book Awards --- one for literary fiction and one for best children's book. It was published in Britain as BOTH a children's title and as an adult -- slightly different covers -- which makes it eligible, I guess. Here in the States it was only an adult title.

Powells has an interesting interview with Haddon here, in which he defines the book as an adult title, and said that initially he was disappointed that it was being published as yet another title for children, since he was deliberately trying to break free of his children's literature background and reach an adult audience.

Haddon is the author of many, many children's books, and yet "Dog" was promoted as a debut. He is the only author in the past 20 years or so I can think of who successfully transitioned into being an adult novelist; lots of people do it the other way around -- Carl Hiaassen, Michael Chabon, Isabel Allende, Alan Kurzweil etc. But very few who go the other way. Joan Aiken and Madeleine L'Engle did, to some extent.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Choosing Her Own Books 

Yesterday, Tulip and I went to the library. She immediately demanded a large and extremely grimy fuzzy duck they have sitting in the kids' area, and sat upon it, squealing loudly. Then she "read" the duck some stories.

I asked if she wanted to take some books home, and she ran over to the rotating racks that hold romances and thrillers in mass-market paperback. She selected something by Laurence Saunders.
Um, no. That's a scary story for grownups.
Then she wanted to know if she could take home one of the books on tape.
When you're bigger, I said. (Her idea of what to do with a cassette tape involves pulling out the tape and trailing it all over the apartment.)

I directed her to the picture books, and she randomly pulled off two copies of the same book: a photo collection that tells about how parents love their children. She wanted to take home both copies.
We took one.

Funny, although her selection was apparently based solely on the fact that the book was at her level and she could waggle it out of the bookshelf, she really does like it --or at least, is invested in it because she herself picked it out. That's probably the key; she likes it, because she chose it -- not because of the topic, but because she feels a sense of responsibility.

I selected our other books. For me, David Liss's A Conspiracy of Paper. For Tulip:

Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes (see previous post on Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse)
I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato, by Lauren Child (see previous post on Child)
Brave Irene, by William Steig
My Dad, by Anthony Browne

I know all these books well, already. I strongly recommend them. Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Lauren Child  

I just read this great interview with Lauren Child, author and illustrator of Clarice Bean and I Will Not Ever Eat a Tomato, among other things. It was published originally in January 2004 by Good Reading.

It was really interesting because we had just had something of a debate in the course I teach over whether Clarice Bean, That's Me was an Eloise "rip-off" as I had cavalierly suggested. I love Clarice Bean, but its tone and lack of plot does seem incredibly influence by Kay Thompson -- even more so than Olivia, although Olivia LOOKS more like Eloise, as a book.

But as my students argued for its originality, we did come to agreement about the illustration style and type design being very much original -- and decided that Clarice Bean is fundamentally about family and family connections, whereas Eloise is really about a small child running loose in a public space.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

"No 'tories!" 

All the books on parenting say I should read to my kid before bed. But Tulip doesn't agree. She wants to read in the morning; right this minute she is passionately showing her father the Click magazine we've read once through already today.

She wants to read in the middle of the day, though she'll also argue pretty hard for watching videos, much to my dismay, and we have had to make a rule that there are no "movies" until after her nap, and then after her nap we generally take her out to the park for a big chunk of the afternoon.

But at bedtime, she cries "No 'tories! no 'tories" and wants to go "'trait to bed." It's like once she's got those pajamas on, reading becomes torture.

She does, however, want me to read to her at the dinner table, depsite my attempts to engage her in polite conversation.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, by Kevin Henkes 

This is, to my mind, one of the best mental hygiene-type stories around. By which I mean, stories that have as part of their agenda the improved mental health of their readers; either because they show a child resolving a common problem, thereby offering reassurance -- or because they help articulate that problem. An example of the latter type is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, in which Alexander simply has a sucky day and at the end realizes that "some days are like that." There's no solution.

Kevin Henkes writes almost exclusively in the former genre. His characters are teased because of their names, pressured to give up security blankets, bossed around by bullies. They (or their parents) figure out something to do -- but very often there's adult intervention. Chrysanthemum's music teacher approves of her name; Owen's mother thinks of cutting his blanket into small squares.

The reason I like Lilly best is that she's the one who causes her own problem: she misbehaves in class, her teacher takes away her plastic purse until the end of the day, and she writes a mean note and draws a horrible picture of him and leaves it in his bookbag. She has done something wrong, and when she finds he's left a forgiving note and a bag of "cheesy snacks" in the purse when giving it back to her, she has to figure out what to do to make amends. The grown-ups help, but Lilly pretty much fixes her own situation. This makes her different from Henkes more passive characters.

And -- as a reader pointed out to me -- Lilly has been merchandised! Check out the March archives for discussion of female characters who have been made into plushy figures, etc. Lilly's brand is on several different counting-type games.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Harry Potter  

An article in The Economist points out that now Amazon posts a monthly worldwide bestseller list, drawing from all six of their sites (US, Canada, UK, France, Germany and Japan). Number one -- outselling that South Beach Diet and The DaVinci Code, is Harii Pottaa to Fushichoo no kishidan, by J.K. Rowling, translated by Yuko Matsuoka [pre-orders for the Japanese translation of Order of the Phoenix) -- which won't even be out until September.

Shirts and No Pants -- Frontal Nudity in picture books 

It's not a particularly original point, I know, but so many characters in picture books and cartoons wear shirts and no pants. Last night, Tulip and I read "Roly Poly Hippo in the Bath" three times running. It's just a bath enthusiasm book; 25 cents at Goodwill. Roly Poly hippo is muddy, and takes a bath, and then gets muddy again. He's got bubble bath, a fluffy towel, a yellow sponge, you know.

And he wears a shirt and no pants. Just like Disney's Pooh Bear. And Donald Duck. The convention that below-the-waist nudity is unacceptable for boys, while going without a shirt is fine (like on the beach) just does not extend to these kinds of cartoon drawings. Of course, they've got no genitalia. And Tulip thinks it would be nicer if everyone was naked most of the time, so she certainly doesn't notice.

On the other hand, James Marshall's hippo Martha wears a skirt and no top.

I can see that Donald's tail prevents him wearing pants that look normal. But Roly Poly could easily do so, as could Pooh. And Martha could wear a shirt -- although something about Marshall's pictures make it seem like she's wearing the skirt not so much as clothing but as self-decoration.

Well, maybe that's true for Disney's Pooh, as well. All the other characters are naked, after all.

Frontal nudity for human characters in picture books is relatively rare. The only one I can think of is Sendak's In the Night Kitchen. Of course there are lots of bath stories that show human children comfortably splashing around, but no nether regions are ever depicted. For example: Eloise Takes a Bawth; Captain Bob Sets Sail; Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti.

I'm not suprised at all that animals are shown nude and partly clothed in picture books. It seems a very natural way to get around any prudishness we might have while still being able to show naked bodies. But it does seem odd to me that there's this trend of dressing them almost in opposition to the conventions of modesty we expect our children to uphold.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The Elegant Variation 

Mark Sarvas's lovely literary blog, The Elegant Variation, hypes up Reading to My Kid here. Yippee!

Herbert the Lion, by Clare Newberry (1931) 

I'm writing about Herbert the Lion by request -- and full disclosure up front -- I'm not looking at it but at a big section on it in Barbara Bader's American Picturebooks from Noah's Ark to the Beast Within. But it's good to talk about anyway, not least because it was written in 1930 and is still read; other books from that era include Millions of Cats; Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel; Angus and the Ducks; Caps for Sale.

The other reason it's interesting (aside from being charming and funny) is that it was heavily revised, and republished in 1939 and again in 1956.

Sally, a little girl, dreams of having a baby lion. "So one day her mother bought her one from downtown."

Herbert turns out to be delightfully friendly and "the way the took his cod-liver oil was simply beautiful" -- only he grows and grows and grows until no one is willing to come near the house and the dad wants Herbert to go to the zoo. Sally is miserable. Then, fortunately, Sally's mother remembers they own a ranch. Herbert goes to live there, and Sally visits him on vacation. She gets a very small kitten to console her.

According to Bader, the 1939 revision expands the story considerably, and shows Herbert on the ranch trying t make friends with various animals and finally setting off to find Sally, because he misses her. Finally he gets to her, and Sally's parents make the decision that they must all live on the ranch year round. The 1956 revision trims down the 1939 one -- eliminating characters (Walter the handyman and Timmie the cat).

The pictures (Bader reprints three) are line drawings of exceptional charm; very minimalist. Newberry switched styles after that and took to drawing delicate watercolors of cats and kittens. Titles include Mittens, April's Kittens, and Smudge (below). By the way - although Herbert the Lion is out of print, there are lots of used copies for under $2 at Amazon. I just bought one myself. It looks to be the 1931 edition.

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