Top 10 Childrens’ Books

I read A LOT of books – at least 20 a day.  Mind you, they take on average between one to three minutes to complete.  For the sake of my own sanity, I augment my toddler’s stockpile by visiting the Children’s Library pretty much every week.  These books go to the book holder in the bathroom, where I do most of my reading to Josie now that we’ve gotten into potty training.  Somehow I’ve gotten it into my head that reading new and exciting books will lubricate her GI tract, as if every time I picked up a bestseller at Barnes and Noble I suffered from an explosive case of diarrhea.

There are three types of children’s books:

1.  Books neither of us likes
2.  Books only one of us likes
3.  Books we both like.

The latter are rare, not because a toddler is picky (they will sit with rapt attention as you turn the pages of Fruit by Sara Anderson, listing off different fruits as your brain slowly turns to pudding).  They are rare because too few children’s book authors understand that their writing must concurrently reach the parent on their own level.  Movie studios like Pixar have this down pat.  They know that 8 year-olds don’t drive themselves to movie theaters.  You can sell a book with a nice cover, but if your goal as an author is have that book be so beloved that it’s worn spine is held together with duct tape, an adult has to be willing to read it literally hundreds, if not thousands, of time.

So here is Josie and I’s top ten in no particular order.  If you are looking for a birthday present for a little one you’ll soon learn shortly after stumbling into a bookstore that thereare a bajillion children’s books out there.  Without recommendations, you are more likely to feel confident in your decision-making process in the wine aisle at the supermarket than you will in the children’s book section of a book store.  So if you’re looking for a book for a toddler (and a parent) I can guarantee that they’ll both enjoy at least one of these, just as I can assure you that their parents probably already own it.

Naturally, if you have a go-to book that isn’t on this list, I would love to hear it.  And if you’ve notice it possess any significant bowel-loosening properties, all the better.


Advertisements

We’ll see if I get a response

This is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but only sort of…

Hinkler Books Pty Ltd.
45-55 Fairchild Street
Heatherton
Victoria 3202
Australia

August 28, 2012

To Whom It May Concern:

My daughter is about a year and a half and loves your 2006 edition of First Animals.  She loves seeing all the different animals, grouped together in different ways.  As I’ve been reading it to her though, I’ve come to notice a few animals that are named incorrectly, and some that, I believe, deserve a somewhat more specific labeling or accurate ecological categorization.  While I’m sure these taxonomic and ecological issues may seem trivial to other parents, I think that we have a responsibility to accurately teach budding naturalists the correct names and habits of the animals that capture their interest.

In the first section ‘colorful animals’ your ‘dragonfly’ is actually a damselfly.  While both are in the order Odonata, damselflies are distinguished by their smaller size, their tapered wings as they near the base, and their habit of holding their wings parallel to their body (as your photo shows) rather than flat and perpendicular as dragonflies do.

I wonder why you chose to label the Red-eyed tree frog as ‘frog’ in ‘colorful animals’ but gave it some distinction in ‘tree climbers’ as ‘tree frog’?

While your labeling of ‘angelfish’ is correct, it’s rather vague, as marine ‘angelfish’ of the family Pomacanthidae comprises 86 species across three oceans.  ‘Angelfish’ could also refer to a family of Amazonian freshwater cichlids so, as you can see, this colloquial term is really quite broad to apply to a single blue and yellow fish.

Still in ‘colorful animals,’ the ‘beetle’ appears to be a click beetle (probably from the genus Alaus), which is a great addition to the book because it is a familiar insect to kids.  I certainly recognized it from my childhood memories, but I wonder why it wasn’t labeled at least ‘click beetle,’ especially to differentiate it from the (Scarab) ‘beetle’s in the ‘armored animals’ and ‘mini-beasts’ sections?  And really, with an estimated 850,000-4,000,000 species of beetles on the planet, a little differentiation wouldn’t hurt.  You gave family distinction by labeling the ‘longhorn beetle’ in the ‘striped animals’ section after all.

Also in the ‘armored animal’ section your picture of a ‘turtle’ is actually a tortoise – a desert tortoise if I were to guess.  Note the absence of webbed feet.  This appears to be the same tortoise, similarly mislabeled and ironically placed in the ‘water lovers’ section.

Again in the ‘water lovers’ section the ‘seal’ is a sea lion.  Note the external ear flaps and the long hairless fore flippers.  This may sound trivial, but sea lions are a completely separate family from seals, comprising five genera.

The ‘otter’ in the ‘water lovers’ section, while correctly labeled, is more specifically a North American river otter.  As a person who lives where river otters are most often seen in saltwater, it is a personal pet peeve of mine to hear people on beaches refer to these Mustelids as ‘sea otters.’  Therefore I would encourage you to teach young readers the difference between, at least, these two types of otters.

The ‘crocodile’ in the ‘water lovers’ section is a juvenile American alligator.  Note the dark coloring, blunt snout and the black and yellow striped tail.  While phylogenetically you are correct, since all alligators are crocodilians, it seems more accurate to label this little guy an alligator.  The crocodile in the ‘powerful animals’ section is correct.

And why is a toad, and not a frog, featured in the ‘water lovers’ section, when one of the primary differences between the two is a toad’s relative preference for dry, terrestrial habitats?

It seems like the gecko in ‘spotted animals’ and the iguana in ‘tree climbers’ are being a little slighted by being called ‘lizards’ when there is an ocelot and a leopard next door who aren’t just labeled ‘cats.’  The ‘chameleon’ got his name in ‘colorful animals.’

In the ‘striped animals’ section the snake you labeled red, black and white ‘corn snake’ isn’t even close.  A corn snake is a family of snakes, which are mostly orange/yellow.  This snake is unmistakably a Louisiana milk snake, which even southern United States schoolchildren can identify using the pneumonic sing-song to differentiate it from the venomous Texas Coral Snake: “Red and yellow kill a fellow, red and black venom lack.”

I think by this point in the book your editor may have just started to make names up.  The ‘gibbon’ in the ‘tree climbers’ section looks nothing like a gibbon.  This is a Vervet (Chlorocebus pygergythrus), native to eastern Africa scrublands and a member of the superfamily Cercopithecoidea, unlike gibbons who live in southeast Asia and belong to the superfamily Hominoidea!

From my brief experience as a parent, it is my opinion that young children understand much more than many adults give them credit for.  Even our expectations, when it comes to animal identification seems inconsistent – expecting children to have no problem grasping the latin names of some animals like ‘rhinoceros’ or ‘hippopotamus’ (giant animals section) while simply calling a tarantula a ‘spider’ (mini-beasts section).  This probably also reflects our own prejudices and familiarities, but I feel we do a disservice to our little naturalists by not teaching them the names of animals at least down to their taxonomic family, and better yet to their species level.  From watching my daughter, she seems to need no help broadly categorizing different, say, birds as ‘birds,’ unless it is an emu at the zoo.

E.O. Wilson, the distinguished Harvard biologist who has written extensively on the conservation of biological diversity, spent his early childhood in Alabama with his nose to the ground fascinated with ants.  It was the differences between the ants, the different species and what they did that fascinated him.  Identifying those differences leads to nomenclature, correct naming gives power to observation, and observation is the beginning to all empirical scientific knowledge.  By the young age of 13, E.O. Wilson was the first person in the United States to identify a new species of ant to the southern U.S. (the invasive red fire ant).  Surely, this ability to discriminate between ant species did not follow a childhood that regarded all ants, simply, as ‘bugs,’ and I would hope that our early childhood natural history texts would hold a similar expectation for all children.

Sincerely,

Chris Axling

The Winners Write the History (and Children’s) Books

The latest lineup of potty-time bathroom books includes Steven Kellogg’s beautifully illustrated Jonny Appleseed.  As a kid, I remember loving this book, and the other books of Kellogg’s we owned, which, like Jonny Appleseed, tended to focus on familiar tall tales of this country’s westward settlement like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill.  As I read them now though, through the eyes of an adult, I can’t help but squirm in my skin as Johnny Appleseed is welcomed by smiling Mohawk Native Americans as he stands, ax in hand, over the giant tree he just felled to clear land for the coming settlers.  Or later, as he comforts a wolf wounded by an arrow, while the shadowy Native American looks for his prey, I can’t help but shake my head at the irony. 

Not to be Debbie Downer, but this is not how things went down.  By the time we were clearing land in the Ohio River Valley, word had sort of gotten around that we were not to be welcomed with open arms (funny how we still thought we would be as we planned the Iraq invasion).  ‘The winners write the history books’ as they say, and winner’s like to think of themselves as the good guys.  Children’s books are no different.  The lessons we learned about the Pilgrims around Thanksgiving always depicted the Native Americans as friendly and bearing food for the bumbling Pilgrims through their first winter.  While this is true, the teacher never really touched on how, we later gave them blankets infected with smallpox, forcibly relocated the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Nations from the Southeastern U.S. and marched them along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma, and nearly eradicated bison from the Midwest by shooting them for sport from passing trains.  And Christopher Columbus is no different.  Same friendly “Indians,” but while the Arawaks paddled out to greet his ship with gifts, upon meeting them, Columbus, in his journal, noted how easy it would be to enslave the natives, which he did.

So what’s a parent to do in the face of our nation’s predilection to gloss over the violence of this country’s colonization?  Like Santa Clause, do you just go down the prescribed path and lie to your kids, leaving it up to some progressive high school teacher to tell them the truth later?  This is what happened to me.  In the eleventh grade our textbook for American Studies was Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” and I remember feeling like I’d been lied to for years, not for my sake, but so that the adults around me could avoid feeling guilty.  Wouldn’t telling children the truth be better, and in line with the values like honesty and openness which we espouse?

Then again, genocide and slavery are pretty heavy bedtime story topics.  The avoidance of disturbing topics like these is, in part, what helps to preserve the framework that makes the construct of childhood innocence possible for adults to feel a need to protect.  I’ll speculate that this need of ours is the basis for the majority of the myths we tell to them.

But let’s say we did give it to them straight from an early age.  Wouldn’t it undermine many of the ideals we desperately try to instill during their early years?  How could we teach them that their comfortable lives can be traced back, in part, to how their white ancestors stole Native Americans’ land, were responsible for millions of their deaths, and later dishonored treaties with them and prohibited them from practicing their religion, while telling them to share, be tolerant and not hurt others?  It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch for an elementary school aged child to conclude that to get what you want you should become the schoolyard bully.

So how do we teach our children about the consequences of our place on this continent without delivering a crushing dose of reality that contradicts the values we hold in esteem?  If you’ve wrestled with this, I’d love to hear your experience.  My daughter is not yet two, and just recently surpassed our dog’s intelligence, so I’ve got some time before I introduce a revisionist history of the effects of European colonization on Native American cultures.  Still it’s a weighty topic, so I’d like to be prepared when she brings home a handout from kindergarten around Thanksgiving with a drawing of a smiling Plains Indian handing over an ear of corn to a pilgrim in a pointy hat.

Ducks aren’t yellow

Raising a child means you do a lot of explaining.  After all, as far as slates go, kids are pretty blank when they come out.  Often this means you are made to realize just how little you know, or how arbitrary our world is.  My daughter’s not even into the “why?” phase yet, and already my explanatory soliloquies lack the authority you’d expect from a college graduate.  And I’m not talking about topics like dark matter, biochemistry, or thermodynamics.  I’m talking about things like why we drive on the right side of the road, why cold drinks leave rings on tables, or why grass is green.

As if my explanations aren’t bad enough, I feel like my efforts are being sabotaged by children’s authors and the English language itself.

Children’s books are not exactly grounded in realism, which is mostly a good thing.  They should be fanciful and encourage children’s imagination.  But I feel like they also serve as a child’s first formal education on how you are expected to behave and how the world works, so even though most books deliver these messages through talking animals, I feel like maybe they could be a little less cartoony.  Josie loves birds, and she constantly signs “bird” whenever she sees a crow, pigeon, eagle, purple finch, hummingbird, yellow warbler, etc.  She recognizes a wide diversity of birds as ‘birds.’  So why do children’s books always draw animals in the same archetypal way?

The naturalist in me sometimes wishes their illustrators would make a little more effort to be biologically accurate.  What color are ducks?  Yellow?  Sure when they’re little, they’re sort of a dirty blondish brownish, but I have never seen an adult duck the color of a banana, which apparently is how all children’s book illustrators see them.  Apparently they take their chromatic cues from rubber bathtub toys, and not their local pond.  Pigs are always drawn pink, cows are usually the familiar black and white Holsteins or maybe a brown Jersey.  The lack of diversity depicted in children’s books isn’t necessary, and at worst, it’s insulting.  I also add narration to the story on how ecologically inaccurate it is when I see zebras and lions playing together happily.  And for that matter, sometimes I add some extra explanation on what happens to piglet and all those other happy farmyard animals.

Then there is the English language.  Unlike children’s books, it seems to go out of its way to make the world overly complex and confusing.  The more explaining I do, the more inconsistencies I find in it.  And I’m not talking about the obvious irregular verbs, weird phrases, or silent consonants that don’t yet concern a toddler.  I’m referring to flat out nouns that don’t make sense.

Grape Nuts

  • Grape nuts – neither grapes nor nuts.
  • Grapefruit – not a grape, and with a redundant suffix.
  • Pineapple – not an apple, and does not grow on a pine tree.
  • Eggplant – maybe when they are real little they look like eggs?
  • Butterfly – neither butter nor fly.
  • Cargo – goods we transport by ships.
  • Shipments – goods we transport by cars.
  • Parkway – where we drive.
  • Driveway – where we park.
  • Shorthand – has nothing to do with an anatomical irregularity.
  • Quicksand – Sand that acts very slowly.
  • Boxing ring – is square.
  • Guinea pigs – neither pigs nor from Guinea.
  • Slim chance – same as a ‘fat chance.
  • English – the language we speak.  Also, in billiards, hitting the cue ball in such a way as to put spin on the ball.  Obviously.

Do not read these books to your child

My mother was a kindergarten teacher for 30 years, so after I had a daughter, she drove over with about seven boxes of kids books she had saved.  Needless to say, many of the books were pretty old.  Some books are timeless, like “Where the Wild Things Are” or “The Story of Ferdinand,” but others are pretty dated.  Still others are downright racist or sexist.  And while many of these reflect the prejudices of their age, others hold a mirror to our current culture and show us what topics have become inappropriate for children to read about.  Here are a few of my “favorites.”

“Your Turn, Doctor, ” by Deborah Robison and Carla Perez, M.D. (1982).  This is the story of Gloria who goes in for a check-up and imagines turning the table on her doctor, giving him a check up.

Gloria: Hi there, Doctor.  It’s time for your checkup.  Come into my examining room and take off your clothes.  You’re next.
Doctor:   Me?  Oh, no!  I hate checkups.  I hate taking off my clothes.  (Doctor takes his clothes off, save his pair of polka dot boxer shorts).
Gloria:  But you don’t have to be shy with me.  I’ve been looking at you since you were a fat little baby.

Today the image of a girl alone in a doctor’s examining room with a mostly naked hairy male doctor leaves me with some reservations, which is sad, in a way.  I’m sure that in 1982, this little book would have been read innocently enough to children, who would get a kick out of it.  Their parents would have never had passing thoughts of Catholic priests or sex offender flyers in post offices.  Either way, Sarah and I are planning on hiding it amidst the reading material in our doctor’s office’s waiting room during Josie’s next check-up.

“Just So Stories,” by Rudyard Kipling, (1902).
I remember my parents reading me these stories and loving them.  They are origin stories for children on, for example, “How the Rhino Got His Skin,” “How the Whale Got His Throat,” and “How the Leopard Got His Spots.”  One night while reading the latter story to my daughter, I was a little surprised to learn how the leopard got his spots.  A zebra and giraffe teach the Leopard and an Ethiopian man how to change their color to better camouflage themselves during the night so the can be better hunters.  The Ethiopian changed,

“‘To a nice working blackish-brownish colour, with a little purple in it, and touches of slaty-blue.  It will be the very thing for hiding in hollows and behind trees.’
‘But what about me?’ [the leopard] said when the Ethiopian had worked his last little finger into his fine new black skin.”

They decide on spots for the Leopard:

“‘I’ll make ’em with the tips of my fingers,’ said the Ethiopian.  ‘There’s plenty of black left on my skin still.   Stand over!'”

The politically correct Northwest liberal in me is aghast.

“The Bremen-town Musicians,” by Ruth Belov Gross and Jack Kent, (1974.)
This Brother’s Grimm story features a group of farm animals who escape their owners and band together.  Each animal is escaping his own grim end.  The donkey runs away because he hears his master say, “That donkey is too old to work.  So why should I feed him?”  On his way he meets a dog who says, “I am getting too old to hunt.  I heard my master wanted to kill me.  So I ran away.”  Next they meet a cat who informs them that she, “[is] getting too old to run after mice.  I heard my mistress say she was going to drown me.  So I ran away.”  Next is a rooster: whose crowing the donkey notices is rather sad, “I am crowing while I can.  I heard my mistress say she was going to cut off my head and put me in the soup.”

Obviously this story was originally penned when most people still lived on farms, and doing away with old animals whose useful lives were behind them was a common occurrence in the lives of children.  Since most now don’t live on farms, children books today are reluctant to be the bearer of the grim reality of farm animals’ fates, and instead paint a rosy picture of farmers with happy cows and chickens living out their days in happy green meadows.  (Along the same genre, undomesticated animals are in the same boat, as old children’s books regularly make mention to hunting).   I think this book is actually kind of great.  What disturbs me more than a children’s book that eludes to offing farm animals is any child who, when asked where hamburgers come from, replies, “the grocery store.”

“The Terrible Thing that Happened at our House,” Marge Blaine and John C. Wallner, (1975).

This book begins like this, “My mother used to be a real mother.  In the mornings, when my brother and I left for school, she’d kiss us and wave goodbye.  ‘Have a nice day, darling.  Be good, honey,’ she’d say as we went out the door.  When we came home for lunch, we’d have toasted cheese sandwiches or tuna on a bun.”  The little girl goes on to list a litany of ways her mother makes her life a domestic paradise for her and her brother.  The ‘terrible thing’ the title alludes to is when her mother went back to work as a science teacher!  What follow is a list of all the ways this spoiled brat’s life becomes less than ideal, like making her own bed, having to eat lunch at school, and finding her own underwear and socks.

And father isn’t immune to this shift either.  “My father used to be a real father, too.  He’d come home from work and say, ‘Hi, everybody – what’s for dinner?”  It’s a traditional gender role nightmare, that I think is tongue-in-cheek, but it’s hard to tell.  Either way Betty Friedan would be rolling in her grave.

“Love You Forever,” Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw (1986).
Okay, so this one is just kind of inappropriate to read to your youngster before bed.  The author’s heart is probably in the right place, but it drops some pretty heavy material on your wee one right before nighty-night time.  Namely, that one day you’re going TO DIE.  This book follows a mother and son through their lives, with each page the mother sneaking into her son’s room, picking him up and rocking him to the following song:  “I’ll love you forever/I’ll like you for always,/As long as I’m living/my baby you’ll be.”  This gets a little creepy when the son is a grown man and the mom is driving across town with a ladder strapped to her car’s roof, but whatever.  Then the mom gets very old and calls to say he should come over “because I’m very old and sick.”  He does and she begins singing the song, “But she couldn’t finish because she was too old and sick.”  Sweet dreams kiddo!

Then there are the books that just don’t translate anymore.  What publisher would agree to book about a magical flying car being named “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?”  I’ve known enough little kids who inadvertently drop F-Bomb just trying to say ‘truck’ to know how that one is going to go over.  Or how about a book about a train engineer titled “Mr. Puffer-Bill?”  I looked desperately through the illustrations for a cigarette hanging from Mr. Puffer-Bill’s lips, but was disappointed.  There’s the little boy in “Just Me” who has a rooster named ‘Cocky,’ and there are just too many books to name whose characters routinely exclaim that they ‘feel so gay!.’

If you’d like any of the books mentioned in this post, my wife and I will be having a garage sale this summer and I’ll keep you appraised of when it will be.  They will be in the free box.

And this year’s patronizing parenting book award goes to…

The other day my wife asked me to check out a book from the library on toddler issues, so after ‘toddler time’ was over I checked out “The Toddler Care Book – A Complete Guide from 1-5 Years Old.”  There’s some good stuff in there, but like all parenting books it has its slant.  Particularly noticeable to me is its condescension toward Dads.  Every other chapter ends with a section titled “Dad’s Role” (as if parenting isn’t really the domain of Dads, so here’s some pointers when Mom needs a break.)

My favorite lines are in the “Your Young Toddler” section of “Dad’s Role.”  Here it advises you to take your toddler to the park, to the pool, on a walk around the block, and to the bathtub (all activities that give Mom a break, I might add).

At a park it advises that, “While playing at the park,some safety rules have to be followed.  Your toddler is still learning to walk, so she may not be as good a climber as you think she is.”  ‘Cause let’s face it, Dad’s are idiots.

And at the pool, “Despite liking the water, your child cannot swim – she can only just walk – so hold onto her tightly in and around the pool.  Pay attention and don’t slack off.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen anyone toss a baby in a pool thinking they’d be able to swim.

Next, “Dad’s need to find at least one particular activity or chore to claim as their own, where they are the go-to guy.  One suggestion is the bath.  It’s easy, especially as your child can now sit and stand independently.”  I’m starting to get a pretty clear picture of the author’s vision of Dad’s: reckless bungling ogres who can’t be trusted to be alone with their children.

If you doubt me this next line on a guide to playing at the park will seal the deal:  “Bring diapers and lots and lots of wipes.  While most moms can clean the messiest bums with only a quarter of a wipe, dads may need a few more.”  Wow.  Next time Mt. Vesuvius goes off in Josie’s diaper I’m going to pass her and a quarter of a wipe to Sarah and just shrug me shoulders, “Hey, this is your department – I’d just make a mess of it.”  Then I’ll drag my knuckles over to the tv, turn on some football and shout at her to bring me a beer.

Favorite Baby Books

Before you become a parent, other parents will tell you all the time that you will read the same books a thousand times.  In the back of your mind you tell yourself that they are as prone to hyperbole as the rest of us, but you soon find yourself wondering how many times have you said the phrase “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?”  Before you can help it your mind is already answering, “Why, a red bird of course!”

I’m not an expert in child development, but I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t really matter which books you choose to read.  Most baby books are going to do a fine job of helping a baby to acquire language skills, learn cause and effect, and recognize patterns.  The most important thing  is that you are snuggling up with your little one and reading regularly to them.  That being said, baby books vary widely in quality, from the perspective of the reader.  If you really are going to read a book a thousand times, you might as well not feel like it is going to drive you insane.

The best baby books, in my opinion, have the following qualities:

Plot line.  A plot is the antidote to the books that are most likely to drive you insane: listing books.  How many times can you read a book on vegetables, which just shows a mind numbing array of crudely drawn images of a vegetables with their accompanying name on each page?  My guess is these books are made for parents who don’t speak to their children; that, or they are manufactured by the government to be used during terrorist interrogations at Guantanamo.  “I know it’s a turnip!  Please, NO, NOT AGAIN!!!”In contrast a book like Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf is a “Once upon a time” type of book that, as a reader, you will finish even if you’re   little one crawls off.

Interactivity.  Babies love to do stuff.  They’re active little buggers, and its rare that they sit quietly in your lap for more than a few seconds.  But if a book has flaps that you have to open up to play peek-a-boo with a bear!  Well, then reading is fun, and you’ll basically be playing together.  My favorite is Goodnight Owl by Dwell Studio.  The text is short enough that when my daughter lunges for the flap, we’re in cadence, and the thickness of the pages are easy for her to turn.  In contrast, a very similar book, Butterfly’s Bath, by Sharon Streger, fails for the opposite reason.  The repetitive introductory text is too long, so Josie is “interrupting” me as she lunges for the flap, and the paper is too thin so she struggles for it and gets frustrated.

Good Illustrations.  Art matters, and babies know it.  A good plot can be left short by bad illustrations.  I may be partial to it because the illustrator lives here in Port Townsend, but the classic The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, and illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson, is a great example of a beautiful book.  Watson’s illustrations look more like paintings, and are layered with fanciful detail like the ‘geese alert’ indicator on Santa’s dashboard.  It seems like every time I read this story (and believe me we read it much more than on Christmas Eve) I notice something new, and that keeps this book fresh.

Morals.  I like books that introduce right and wrong to tricky moral issues like bullying, calling names, and stealing.  I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klassen features a simple minded and trusting bear whose hat is missing, and a deceptive and Orwellian rabbit who has stolen it.  The bear takes the rabbit at his word, even though the rabbit is wearing his hat, but later wises up and confronts him.  Adults steal, and when confronted lie about it, but they need to be called out and brought to justice.  Pretty big stuff, wrapped up in a cartoon.  Adults also trick children into learning about morality by packaging their cultures norms and mores into parables.

Creative Language.   This is Dr. Seuss’s bread and butter.  I don’t know if hearing nonsensical language like ‘truffula trees’ helps babies, but I’ve heard rhyming does, and if he can rhyme it with something, babies do seem to love it.  And to be honest, its pretty fun to read.

A few other favorites:

  • Knuffle Bunny, Mo Williams
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle (not, by the way The Very Quiet Cricket, which is very repetitive)
  •  The Monster at the End of this Book, Sesame Street
  • Littler Critter: First Day of School, Mercer Mayer
  • Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
  • Calling All Animals, Matthew Porter

And as I alluded to earlier, my most despised book award goes to Sara Anderson’s, Vegetables, narrowly beating out her other Weapon of Mass Lunacy, Fruit, only because I prefer fruit to vegetables in a gastronomical sense.  (Also, because she lists ‘Tomato’ in the vegetables book.  Really Sara?)