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?
A recent favorite for all family members (except baby) has been Journey and also Quest by Aaron Becker. No words, just amazing pictures. Along those lines there is a book called Polo by Regis Faller we like too.
For fun and nonsense, yet provides a sing-song rhythm or cadence that intrigues children, you can’t go wrong with Dr. Seuss. One of your favorite books when very young, was Rose Petal Place. It had a rhythm and soft tones that you enjoyed (over, and over!).
One of your brother’s favorites was a little farm pop-up book with a lovely little story – and also books with trains/cars/fire trucks, that required the reader to make lots of rumbling motor sounds.
I liked to select books that told a story and had wonderful illustrations, preferably with a bit of humor, and was best read using multiple voices. Your children have a chicken book – in fact, several – that require a range of low and very high voices when being read. Sometimes the humor goes over the heads of children, but it makes the books fun to read!
I love books. We have too many. Some I love and some my children have loved are: Sandra Boynton’s books (I think I read Moo, Baa, La La La at least 500 times while Emily was in the hospital. It made her smile when not much else did.) Fancy Nancy (All 3 girls love/d these) The Magic Schoolbus (for my science lovers, although I find them tiresome) Over in the Meadow, The Lady with the Alligator Purse (because I can sing them) The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash (It’s so silly), Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka books (for their charm), The Fire Cat (It was my husband’s favorite when he was growing up), most books by Jan Brett (Charming) Big Brother Bunny; Oh, Oh, Bunny; No, No Bunny (not great lit, but all 5 kids loved them. Our 4-year-old has 2 of them memorized) and books with Barney (Sorry! Our 4-year-old FINALLY recognizes colors and I’m sure at least part of that is attributable to a Barney book with colors. Desperate times call for desperate measures.) So many books, so little time.
I also liked the Magic Schoolbus books for the science, but they are kind of tiring to read as an adult. I’ll have to stress to the future-book-writers I’m addressing this afternoon: do NOT bore the adults or we won’t buy your books!
Jan Brett’s big in our house, too (though, wow, she includes some interesting words choices, ones my kids may never see again in their lives).
And yes to singable books! Katherine wasn’t big on talking or reading early on, and I was busy juggling a new baby as she was learning colors and such, so we did a LOT of singing, rather than talking, for the first couple of years. Poor Sydney: he would come home to a howling wife (I was in a gospel choir, so that influenced some of my melodies) and two noisy kids. It’s a wonder he survived that stage . . .