A colleague of mine asked me to teach his students about picture books this week. The course is on adolescent literature, and they’ve barely touched books for young children, so I’m in charge of that part. My sole credential for this particular task is that I have long babysat for and now have my own small children, and thus have lugged picture books around and read them at night.
I know lots of academic things about children’s literature, particularly its use as escapist cultural conditioning in the Victorian era, or its role in reinforcing racist ideology during Jim Crow. But as for what is popular, or what parents of small children like for them to read, I’m not sure I’m the best judge. My kids got into books in England, which has its own literary culture (which we brought over with us when we moved here), and, well, my kids have a literature prof as a mother, and I know that this is the only time in their lives in which I’ll be in charge of picking what they read. Already, when we go to the library, we get three sets of books: my picks, her picks, and his picks. Now, we all enjoy reading all of them together, but my son falls for the poorly written Thomas the Tank Engine books (oh, man! I love Thomas, but never realized that the stories are seriously clunky!) and Katherine recently picked upPinkalicious. Sigh. It’s all glitter and selfishness. I tend to pick up books that are full of fantasy and quirky characters and strange new vocabulary.
I don’t think I’m quite as hapless when it comes to picking children’s books as I sound, but, still, I realize that my perspective is not shared by everyone, so I’d be glad for input. What makes you pick up a children’s book? Is it the fact that it’s a book from your own childhood? Is it silly? Is it educational? Is it a role-model type? Are the drawings breathtaking or scribbly? Do you have favorites you’d like to name and share with the world?