Musing: books for 18 months
It’s hard, real hard, to get “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” unstuck from my brain. That stupid little sing-song phrase ranks right up there these days with other broken-record sound tracks from my life: “The Song that Never Ends,” how to spell “E-N-C-Y-C-L-O-PEDIA,” and “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” (Kudos and my everlasting chagrin go to Lamb Chops, Sesame Street, and The Princess Bride, respectively.) I thought I put all that repetitive tomfoolery behind me years ago. But now Little Friend has entered toddlerhood. Welcome, unsuspecting first time mom, to the world of repetition.
Child psychologists have passed along sage observations on the toddler addiction to repetition. Children’s book authors, with greed in their beady little eyes, have capitalized on this addiction, much to the tongue-numbing, brain-fuzzing annoyance of parents everywhere. Little Friend is at that stage where favored books have to be read forty-two times a day, usually in rapid succession. With stats like these, I’ve made it my mission to locate books that fuel her addiction (addiction, addiction, addiction), while still amusing and entertaining my mind on the last repetitive read of the day. Allow me to share our current top five reads that make mom and toddler happy from first to forty-second read. (I’ll also disclose the most repetitive lines from the book. That way you can preview and decide for yourself if you can live with the repetition.) Can these books pass muster in your happy mom – happy toddler test? I think they can, I think they can, I think they can.
Edwina the Emu
Author: Sheena Knowles
Illustrator: Rod Clement
Phrase most likely to get stuck in your head: “Yeeks!”
The masterminds behind one of my favorite children’s books, Edward the Emu, join forces once again for the sequel Edwina the Emu. (For some reason, Little Friend can’t tolerate Edward past the third page, but Edwina? She’s good for at least forty-two reps.) With a cleverly-deployed dactylic meter (yes, my former English students will groan and roll their eyes–“There she goes again with that poetry meter stuff”), Knowles’s heroine and expectant emu-mom, Edwina, traipses through a series of liberated feminist (emuist?) job-hunt trials before settling on the 2010 alternative to superwomanhood: co-parenting. Or co-nesting, as it were. Rod Clement’s illustrations breathe detailed life into the story, humorously capturing the skeptical expressions of humans who come face-to-face with an emu auditioning as a ballerina, chimney-sweep, and waitress. My personal favorite is the woman sporting black leather, buzz cut, hooked nose, and multiple piercings standing at the bus stop next to the beleaguered (but clearly avian) Edwina with her hair, erm, feathers sticking up in a purple scrunchie. Somehow, the bemusing story and illustrations convey a deeper meaning for us moms, each of whom is on a journey to come to terms with this new occupation life has thrown our way: motherhood. My hope is that, like Edwina, at the end of the day we’ll each find that the place we love best is home surrounded by those we love most.
Pony Brushes His Teeth
Author: Michael Dahl
Illustrator: Oriol Vidal
Phrase most likely to get stuck in your head: “Just like Dad.”
What a refreshing change of pace…an excellent children’s read that has dad + kid as the dynamic duo. While moms do get top billing when it comes to boo-boo kissing and good-night hugging, I’m quickly learning that dads get the preference when it comes to tickle-wrestling, pretend-shaving, and funny-noise-making. Pony Brushes His Teeth celebrates the hero worship that naturally develops between father and child. Of course, teaching the steps of teeth-brushing to a strong-willed toddler certainly can’t hurt either. Oriol Vidal’s illustrations perfectly capture the energy and excitement of dad + kid interactions. Pony’s overtly buck teeth and the oversized tooth brush selection lend visual humor to the story’s repetition. And when Pony takes matters into his own hands (hoofs?) when it comes time to spit out the toothpaste water? Vidal’s water illustration seems to splash off the page. I know I dodge. Every dang time.
Author: Mem Fox
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Phrase most likely to get stuck in your head: “Who are you baby?”
I adore Mem Fox. Writer of another of our all-time favorite children’s books, Where is the Green Sheep, this is a woman who gets that books should create living interactions between child and adult reader. (Indeed, check out her explanation of how she creates stories–I was almost in tears. At least until the video froze 18 seconds in. I regrouped.) Hello Baby! invites the child to interact physically and mentally with the words on the page. Little Friend matches her hand to the baby’s hand that appears on the first and last pages of the book. She points to her toes along with the chimpanzee, her eyes with the gecko’s, her (mostly non-existant) hair with the warthog’s. With Caldacott-Honor winning illustrator Steve Jenkins on the job with paintbrush and mixed-media, the restrained yet illustrative images are a visual feast. The combined brilliance of Fox and Jenkins culminates in a final page (no spoiler here–just go buy the book and read for yourself) that just begs for an extra tight squeeze between parent and child.
Author: Martha Alexander
Illustrator: Martha Alexander
Phrase most likely to get stuck in your head: “Moon!” (Uttered in an annoying, cloying, whiny, multi-syllable kind of way.)
Apparently, books that were printed two years after I was born are now out of print. Really? I mean, really? I’m that old? A book as charming and addictive as Maggie’s Moon shouldn’t be out of print, in my humble opinion. Fortunately for those of us adept at wielding library cards, it seems America’s libraries are well-stocked with this tiny gem. Martha Alexander’s whimsical tale of persistent childish wonder follows a series of trials and errors between Maggie, her dog Ruff, and the elusive Moon. Earnest, eager Maggie is determined to trap the Moon and take it home with her, whether for her own good or the Moon’s is unclear. The Moon simply goes about its moon-y business of rising, hiding behind clouds, and appearing again. The illustrations composed of charcoal sketches accentuate the evening shadows while the Moon peeks about in full lemony-yellow glory. Our current choice to replace Goodnight Moon as a final bedtime tale (one more victim to the repetitive agony of toddlerhood), Maggie’s Moon emphasizes sleepiness with a hint of adventure and comedy.
Author: Mike Dumbleton
Illustrator: Craig Smith
Phrase most likely to get stuck in your head: “Thank goodness for that!”
Cat has fewer words than Pat the Bunny. Yet the book amuses me each time I read it. Since I’m not gifted with a natural economy of language, I am in awe of people who are. Author Mike Dumbleton is one of those fortunate writers who can capture all sorts of life’s moments (funny, surprising, frustrating, and heart-warming) in just the right phrases. As the main character (no surprise–a cat) bumbles through its day, sometimes the almost-conquerer (of an unsuspecting mouse, bird and jar of milk) and sometimes the almost-conquered (by a dog and a bike-demon boy), the cat reveals to us a greater world of adventure. Thanks to illustrator Craig Smith, the story’s larger narrative lies in the details expounded upon in the pictures. (The pictures, each worth a thousand words, greatly ups the ante on the word-count, as well.) As the cat mosies about, a perceptive reader guided by a perceptive toddler finger will notice a grandfather and grandmother welcoming a granddaughter into their home. The grandparents and granddaughter water the lawn, tend the garden, sprawl in front of the fire, and wave goodbye at the end of the day. In a unique twist, Cat actually begins telling its tale on the inside cover of the book and concludes on the back cover. A book that can channel the vocabulary of an 18-month-old while entertaining a (much older) adult brain? I’ll echo the words of Mike Dumbleton: “Thank goodness for that!”
Any of these fine five books would make a wonderful baby shower gift, since most of us new moms will be well-stocked in the classics (Good Night Moon, Madeline, Guess How Much I Love You, and Corduroy, to name a few) and have had our fill of younger baby books (we do know A is for Apple and Blueberries are Blue.) Then again, giving the gift of repetition to someone? You did want a gift for a friend, right?
This post has been gladly shared with Works for Me Wednesdays.