Children’s Books and Cynical Parents
I am a female with a degree in English and I have never read Pride and Prejudice. I fear more shocking words have never been uttered. Not only that, but my emphasis was in teaching and I was never one of those English majors that loved the Classics. I read them, appreciated them, even enjoyed a small handful, but I greatly preferred more modern literature. (Dear would-have-been-students, I apologize for leaving the field of teaching and leaving you under the tutelage of others that will continue to have you over analyze the Scarlet Letter to the point that you no longer want to read another book again in your life. You have my deepest sympathies. Please don’t give up reading; there are so many good books out there!) In general, I’m fairly critical about the literature I read. I gravitate toward books that are nonfiction or at least read like nonfiction. They have to be well written, minimally sentimental, and preferably clever. Some of the ladies in the book club I belong to were a little concerned when I rarely commented on the books we read, but when I started speaking up about plot holes and author’s hidden agendas I think they wished I would go back to being quiet again. They didn’t realize I was just trying to hide my cynical nature because I wanted them to keep being my friends. (As it turns out, they are true friends because they haven’t kicked me out since I’ve started opening my big mouth.)
When I was pregnant with Cooper my father, a cynical high school English teacher himself, gave me a copy of Jim Treelease’s The Read Aloud Handbook. While all my pregnant friends were reading What to Expect While You’re Expecting and stressing out (check out one of my favorite reviews of that book here) I was engrossed in The Read Aloud Handbook and feeling better about my chances of successful parenting. I have many shortcomings as a parent, but there is one thing that even I think I am very good at and that is reading with my kids. I will often plop down on the floor in the middle of cooking dinner to read a book and think there is nothing more sweet than seeing a kid on each of Noel’s knees as he reads a bedtime story. (Side note: Someday I shall have to write a post about the hilarious commentary Noel gives as he reads books to the kids. There is a cynic living inside of him too.) While I tolerate all of the dribble written about trains because a certain little boy loves them so much, I am not afraid to hide or donate books that are just plain stupid, for lack of a better description. I’m constantly on the lookout for clever, well illustrated children’s books that entertain both me and the kids. Here are some of the ones we’re enjoying and I’d love any of your suggestions. If you are the kind of parent that takes things extremely seriously, you may not like some of these books because they have “obvious political agendas” or will “teach your children to cross dress” or whatever other horrible and hilarious things parents say in reviews of children’s books. However, if you’re an obviously terrible parent like me, you may want to read negative reviews of children’s books the next time you need a good laugh. And if that doesn’t work, perhaps sexy men reading children’s books will do the job.
- Olivia Books – The ones actually written by Ian Falconer and not the ones written after the Nickelodeon show his books inspired. My two favorites are “Olivia Saves the Circus” and “Olivia and the Fairy Princesses”.
- “All the World” by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee – The pictures are breathtaking and the poetic vibe of the book is nice.
- “The Bunyans” by Audrey Wood – I love the imaginative nature of this book.
- “Duck for President” by Doreen Crowin and Betsy Lewin – From the authors of “Click, Clack, Moo“, but slightly more hilarious.
- “My Momma Had a Dancing Heart” by Libba Gray and Raul Colon – Another poetic favorite. Every mom should read this with her daughter.
- “The Boss Baby” by Marla Frazee (illustrator of “All the World”) – I’m seriuosly thinking of making this my new mom gift.
- “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak – A classic that I do love. For an interesting interview with the author, check out this one on NPR.
- “The Lion and the Mouse” by Jerry Pinkey – A beautiful rendition of the classic fable.
- “The Wretched Stone” by Chris Van Allsburg – I like it for the underlying anti-tv message.
There are admittedly some classics that I do love. For some reason “Goodnight Moon” hasn’t gotten old yet and I only hate “Love you Forever” because I just cannot read that cursed book without crying. I also just checked out one of the booklists on Jim Treelease’s website and was intrigued with some of the titles.
9 thoughts on “Children’s Books and Cynical Parents”
Pride and Prejudice will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first happy book we read in high school. After 2 and a half years of despair that started with “The Pearl” and ended with “Lord of the Flies” I was thrilled to be reading something that restored my hope in humanity.
I’m pretty cynical with the kids’ books too. Some of them are so stupid. I’ll have to check out your list. I love “All the World” I cried every time I read it for a while there (I think I was pregnant with Derrick at the time).
Oh and as a matter of fact “The Scarlet Letter” was the book that kicked off my habit of sluffing English in 11th grade.
What adult books do you recommend?
Lately, I’m loving books of essays because I can squeeze in an essay here and there without forgetting any plot details. Also, they make me feel like my brain got some sort of stimulation 🙂 I’d recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw or Atul Gawande’s Better. When I used to have more time to devote to reading, I remember enjoying My Name is Asher Lev, Refuge, Fahrenheit 451, and Prodigal Summer, to name a few.
There is a whole section of the bookshelf that Blake and I want to burn because they are so preachy and boring to read. Unfortunately they are the ones that are family heirlooms from Blake’s childhood. If you ever want to poke your eyeballs out, read any Serendipity Book. Then imagine having the whole entire series…
My gripe with children’s books are mostly based around the word to picture ratio. I can’t handle anything longer than a few sentences for each picture. My attention is gone after that 😉
You should get the Lion and the Mouse then. It’s literally a book of pictures 😉
Some faves (LOVE children’s books):
Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed (favorite Christmas book of all time–I guarantee it’s worth ordering on Amazon if your library doesn’t stock it)
Most anything by Kevin Henkes (Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, Julius the Baby of the World, etc.) I own most of his books. And multiple copies of some of them.
Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster
Fanny’s Dream–makes me cry
The grammar series (Eats, Shoots, Leaves–commas; The Girl’s Like Spaghetti–apostrophes; Twenty-odd Ducks–general grammar) by Truss and Timmons. These books demonstrate how much grammar changes the meaning of a sentence by putting two versions of each sentence on facing pages with illustrations to match eachsentence. For example, “the girl’s like spaghetti” [contraction] vs “the girls like spaghetti”
The grammar series by Cleary and Gable–they’re fun. For instance: How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear? (What are homonyms and homophones?)
Hooway for Wodney Wat. This one is charming and hilarious. It’s about a rat with a speech impediment who triumphs over a bully.
Sadie and Ratz–mini chapter book. Darling and wonderfully funny. About a girl who has named her hands Sadie and Ratz. They tend to get into trouble.
Let me know how you like any that you try. 🙂
Oooh, so many things to check out. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.
Why didn’t you talk about plot holes, stupidity, and hidden agendas while I was there? Waaah…I missed out (and I wouldn’t have kicked you out, either)!
I also agree with Katherine – Red Ranger Came Calling is one of the best Christmas books *ever*. We’ve read it every single Christmas Eve for the last 18 years.
I prefer the term “critical thinker” to “cynical” 😉 I believe you are teaching your children skills that will take them far in life and make them much more interesting people in addition to being well read.
Nathaniel is always talking about plot holes.