It’s Children’s Book Week, so I have a couple of posts featuring some of my favorite children’s books. Check out last year’s posts on the topic: Passing Down My Beloved Books, Bizarre Children’s Literature, and Tips on Reading to Babies.
Today, I’m celebrating some children’s books that draw on a rich history of literature and more importantly, make you look smart in front of your kids. These books all reference other books, especially the classics. In other words, a geek’s dream.
Bats at the Library: This sweet story is about a colony of bats that has an unusual indulgence – visiting the library. Leaving issues of guano aside, the bats’ joy at the ability to share stories is infectious. While the pictures of bats reading “fancy cookbooks” (entomology books) and swooping around are charming, the best part is a multi-page homage that puts the bats in famous scenes from children’s literature. From Winnie-the-Pooh to Pippi Longstocking, the references are beautifully drawn, evocative but not always obvious. There were a number I had to look up myself!
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (and the other variations): The Three Little Pigs is prime territory for story-bending, with a simple, easily recognized structure and characters that are quite generic. Adding extra detail and color is very welcome. My absolute favorite version of this is The Real True Story of the Three Little Pigs, told from the wolf’s point of view. It turns out he wasn’t really stalking the pigs, he was just looking to borrow a cup of sugar! And he didn’t mean to blow their houses down, he just had a cold! And he couldn’t just leave that delicious pork to rot! (Definitely the darkest part of the book.) While his defense is questionable, it’s hilarious. While less absurd and closer to the original, both The Three Little Hawaiian Pigs and the Magic Shark and the Three Little Javelinas provide a nice cultural spin on the story. The Hawaiian Three Little Pigs in particular has some great visual details.
Deep in the Forest: This wordless book flips around the Goldilocks story, with a cute little bear instead of a little girl. Honestly, it makes a lot more sense than the original. A little girl breaking into a bear’s house? True, it’s a fairy tale, but still unlikely. A bear breaking into a family’s house? A little scary, but totally possible. Having it be a baby bear who returns to his bear family at the end makes it sweet rather than terrifying.
The Paper Bag Princess: If you don’t like traditional princess stories, you will love this one. And that’s the point. Robert Munsch subverts all of the princess stereotypes, from pretty dresses to needing to be rescued. After her castle is attacked by a dragon and her husband-to-be is dragged away, Elizabeth goes on a mission to rescue him. The crowning glory is when she declares her ungrateful suitor a “bum” and leaves him, in a book released decades before the Frozen princesses kicked butt.
Lola Loves Stories: A short little ode to being a book-lover, featuring a charming little girl. Each day, she reads a different book and then acts out what’s in it, from domesticity to adventure. (I especially love that the day she plays at bringing her baby to a coffee shop she does so with her friend who is a boy.) While most of the days reference generic stories, the final one says that she read a story about a “wild monster.” On the last page, she’s wearing a wolf costume, just like the protagonist of one of my favorite books.