Did you know this is Children’s Book Week? My posts this week are going to focus on reading to children and children’s books, from the weird to the patience-building.
Saying that I am attached to my books is an understatement. I have two large Tupperware containers of books in my closet that I’ve owned since I was a child, ones that I either believed would be out of print or that I valued so deeply it pained me to get rid of them. But because I was a very precocious reader, very few of them are picture books. In fact, I have few distinct memories of reading picture books at all. This leaves me at a bit of a loss for now when it comes to passing on my beloved books to Sprout. Fortunately, there are a few that remained from my young childhood, mainly because my mom “borrowed” them for her classroom and brought them home when she retired. However, some are a bit different than I remember them.
Squiggly Wiggly’s Surprise: This was definitely the most hilariously disappointing of the bunch. Squiggly Wiggly is a worm (according to the book – he’s actually a caterpillar) that is represented by a little finger puppet that you push through holes in the book. However, his brown coloring and black rings make him look suspiciously like part of the male anatomy. Less funny but more unfortunate, Squiggly has some serious body image issues. While the story is ostensibly about him learning about different colors, most of it is actually him complaining that he’s drab and ugly, opining he could be something else. In the end, of course, he’s transformed into a beautiful butterfly. That’s kind of a crappy message though, as not everyone actually gets to become a butterfly. Squiggly should love himself for who he is. If you want caterpillar stories, stick with The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Bialosky Goes Out and Bialosky Stays Home: In contrast, these books were a pleasant surprise. I faintly remembered the books that used photos of a teddy bear as pictures, but before re-reading them, wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about them. Bialosky is like Winnie the Pooh’s long lost cousin: he makes grand plans that go array, loves honey, and is “a bear of very little brain.” In Bialosky Goes Out, he spends so long deciding on where to go and what to bring on a walk that it starts pouring before he has the chance to leave. In Bialosky Stays Home, he attempts to make cookies, but “tests” so much of the batter via nibbling that’s there isn’t any left to bake! In both books, he responds to his dilemma with a shrug and declaration that he’ll do better next time. While they lack the moral ambiguity of Winnie the Pooh, he has an irresistible attitude even when his plans completely fail. I’m very glad my mom kept them – they seem to be out of print now.
The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash: This is by far my favorite handed-down book, a tale of subversive fun narrated by a hilarious little girl (Meg). It has a sense of unbridaled, unashamed chaos. It starts off with the main character greeting her mother – who wears a very 1970s outfit combining no fewer than 3 floral patterns – after a trip to the farm. In the course of telling her mom about the trip, we find out that not only did a bale of hay fall on a cow, but that pigs ate the students’ lunches, motivated by the kids throwing their corn, due to the students running out of eggs to throw, all precipitated by Jimmy bringing his pet boa constrictor into the hen house. And the narrative – or Meg’s mom – doesn’t judge the kids at all for this behavior. Meg’s mom acts surprised, but far less than I suspect I’d be in the same circumstance. In fact, it’s very clear that Meg is a key instigator in it all of it – while she didn’t start it, the scene in the henhouse shows her with a full armful of eggs, ready to chuck at her classmates. The other thing I love is the fact the protagonist is female. Not only are girls underreprestened in children’s literature, but they tend to either fit into two stereotypes – full-on tomboys or very pink, very conventionally feminine girls. Meg and her fellow female classmates are neither. They all wear cute 1980s style dresses and skirts to the farm, but participate in the chaos as much – or more than – the boys. When Meg comes home, she changes into a car racing costume to pilot a homebuilt racecar with Jimmy (owner of the boa constrictor) and his new pet pig. But the best part is her non-plussed reaction to the day’s events -“I suppose it was exciting if you’re the kind of kid who likes class trips to the farm.”
A Very Young Dancer: I haven’t given this book to Sprout yet, as it’s rather text-heavy. Nonetheless, I look forward to reading it with him. It follows a young ballet dancer training in the School of American Ballet in New York and what she has to do before the big performance. Because my mom took me to the New York City Ballet every year (we lived near its summer home), I was a little obsessed with ballerinas as a kid. While I can’t force him to like anything, I want Sprout to be able to appreciate dance and theater, especially because they are often seen as “girly” interests. I hope this book can give him some insight into the hard work, athleticism, and beauty that goes into dance. Unfortunately, he won’t even be the second kid to use it. A little boy at my mom’s school was interested in dance and I gave her permission to take it to school. He then drew on it with crayon. At least I know it was loved.
What were your favorite books growing up? Did you have the chance to pass any of them on to your kids or kids you know?