Friday, June 23, 2006

BOOKS: The Reading Habits of Extremely Short People

I just finished the research portion of a huge presentation I've been working on with a bunch of co-workers! This is in no way related to my blog, but I needed to share. Woo! TGIFF! (Do you need to ask what the extra "F" is for?)

Landismom's recent-ish post over at her site reminded me that I've been meaning to write about young Master Sam's evolving reading habits.

Before Sam came along, I had some pretty romantic ideas about how I'd someday read to my baby and how he or she would grow up loving books and how we would have this beautiful lifelong dialogue about literature and life that would always keep us close, no matter how far apart we might be.

I don't know how other book-loving parents reacted when this happened to them, but I don't think "utterly heartbroken" is too strong a phrase for how I felt the first time my budding young Lionel Trilling pitched a screaming fit when we were three pages into a book. Or the first time I proudly presented him with his very own book to hold... and he immediately tried to rip out the pages. I barely survived these experiences. If he turns into one of those toddlers who scribble in books, you may find me lying dead on the floor with my cold, stiff hands clutching my chest in horror.

Oh, we had some marginal early successes. For a brief shining period, I could pluck a reluctant smile from our formerly grim little baron if I read
Green Eggs and Ham in just the right way. And you may recall my recounting how the opening passage to The Wind in the Willows helped Sam through a bout of post-nap weltschmerz. And we do read Goodnight Moon every night before bed, though we seldom make it all the way through. (Sam twigged to his pre-bedtime schedule pretty quickly: dinner, tooth-brushing, bath, and storytime, followed by nursing and bed. You see where the story falls in the timeline? Sometimes all Sam does is see the book before he's writhing in my lap, trying to turn around and pull my shirt up over my head.)

For the most part, Sam has always been more the adventurer sort. Until recently. It's too early to call, of course, but I'm holding out for appending that title to adventurer-scholar. My boy, the Victorian renaissance man. I'm already designing his library, complete with wooden bookcases and little oxblood leather wing chairs and butterflies under glass cases. When do you think is a good age for this sort of set-up? Three? Four?

These days, Sam no longer just suffers me to read to him. He chooses books -- he has his own shelf on the bottom of our big bookcase for his big-kid books, as well as a basket of board books next to his toybox -- and brings them over to me to read to him. And at the risk of sounding, well, like a totally typical parent, I must tell you that it's the Cutest Thing Ever. Our customary reading posture is me sitting cross-legged on the floor with him parked in my lap. So when Sam wants to read, he gets his book then does this hilariously awkward backward crawl toward me, scooching his butt at my lap much like a person getting down off the roof dangles their foot searchingly for the top rung of the ladder. Frequently he falls short of the mark and lands butt-first a foot or so away. Darling, yes?

If you're still reading, first, god bless you. And second, I thought I'd make a little list of some of Sam's totally uncoached favourite reads these days. If you know any 14-month-olds -- or you just want to get in touch with your own inner toddler -- they (or you) might get a charge out of them, too.

The Peace Book
by Todd Parr
This unrelentingly hippy-ish picture book is Sam's talking-down-from-the-ledge book. When he's super-crabby, all I have to do is show him this book and he'll mopishly rein in his grumps, almost despite himself. Each page starts with the line "Peace is..." and then offers a colourfully illustrated definition. Did you know that peace is having lots of books? Of course you did. Did you also know that peace is keeping someone warm? It is, indeed. Sam's favourite page, however, is "Peace is giving a hug to a friend." Awww.

Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs
by Byron Barton
The Peace Book was a thoughtful gift from Libby and Sam's little buddy Jonah. Libby sure knows how to pick 'em, because she also gave Sam another mainstay of his top five list, Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs. We've read this book so many times, I have it committed to memory, from the opening line, "A long time ago there were dinosaurs," to the closer, which is accompanied by an illustration of some sleeping triceratops (triceratopses?), "And there were very tired and very, very sleepy dinosaurs. Dinosaurs, dinosaurs, a long time ago." It's a sweet little book, so long as you ignore the ominous suggestion that all the dinosaurs went extinct because they fell asleep and didn't wake up.

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
by Eileen Christelow
DoppelSis gave this book to Sam on her recent visit, and he LOVES it. You may already be familiar with the cautionary rhyme in which five little monkeys persist in jumping on the bed, despite the exasperated warnings of the family doctor, and despite the fact that, one by one, they're removed from the equation by terrible head injuries. The irony of this book is that, while counting and rhyming are fun, they're not nearly as much fun as jumping on beds. Fortunately, irony is still lost on Sam. The hardest part of reading this book aloud is fighting the urge to make up your own dire lyrics about the dark fate of "Twelve Little Monkeys."

Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever!
Sam fascinatedly PORES over the hundreds of pictures in this huge illustrated dictionary-like book for toddlers. I love a reference book as much as the next person, but to be honest I don't quite get the appeal of this book for Sam. It's a great book, yes, but I would've pegged it as better fare for a three- or four-year-old. Perhaps he's doing research for his novel. I don't know. Whatever it is he's studying for, he's not telling.

Wow! Babies! by Penny Gentieu
Sam finds the babies in this book of photography almost as entrancing as the hundreds of pictures we show him of himself in iPhoto. Each two-page spread shows a half-dozen or so pictures of babies, all centred around a theme, such as eating or sleeping or even crying. Sam is captivated by them all, but his hands-down favourite is the collage of babies smiling and laughing, which never fails to crack him up.

Got any suggestions for books for toddlers? My ears are always open.


Anonymous said...

The Boy Robin (that's what my little guy calls himself) got totally obsessed with Richard Scarry books at about 2-1/2 -- he's a bit over 4 now and still loves them. Get them all, every one of them, because they don't lose their appeal. I love the goofy, oompah-y middle-Europeanness of them. A friend who's a wonderful illustrator confesses the Scarry books got him started drawing. The big "Best Storybook Ever" is the best value once Sam is old enough to hold a book that size -- great airplane read! It's the one with a lion on the cover, or as The Boy Robin insists it's called, "Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever Called the Lion Rides!"

Anonymous said...

My two-year old nephew LOVES for us to read him Dr.Seuss's "Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?" I think it's primarily for the dark joy of watching us embarass ourselves while mooing, booming, splatting, etc., all the while stubbornly refusing to make the noises himself. Heh. I love a dignified toddler. I can't wait until he's a little older to break out "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and "If You Give a Pig a Pancake." Less silly sound effects and more plot, those.

Em said...

I was really into the Brambly Hedge books growing up. Am still slightly convinced that there are whole metropolises hidden underground and in hollowed out trees.
And the Jolly Postman books. Good God those were like baby!crack. I'm told by my elders that I'd sit and stare into the cardboard fold-out 3D scenes and go crosseyed out of wonder when I was a wee thing.

Em said...

Just polled the mother, who recalls more of my earlier years.
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.
Heck, anything by Munsch.
Harold and the Purple Crayon.
Actually, those are probably better in a year or so.
Huh. Board books...
There's one cool one that has holes in the pages and the pictures are incomplete and your kid can complete them by sticking Cheerios in the holes.
It's fun and snacky!

J-dub said...

Oh my! I'm getting all of those for my nephews, plus a good few suggested here in the comments. At 3 months, he's still a ways off from reading on his own, or even HOLDING the dang books, but it can't hurt to start him young, right?

Jess said...

Rosie Sips Spiders, or anything by Alison Lester, really. I'm not sure how available she is these days, but the Rosie books - Clive Eats Alligators, When Frank Was Four - are great. Each page has an illustration of seven children, and some simple text about what they do. Of course, looking back, they had a pretty blatant message about diversity - seven kids of different backgrounds doing the one thing slightly differently - but what I remember is the lovely repetition and screeching out whatever the last line was. "Ernie eats porridge, but CLIVE EATS ALLIGATOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORS!"

Anonymous said...

Sam sounds like a very intelligent child. Let him read and encourage him in his enjoyment of books.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any suggestions, being child-free myself - but I loved Richard Scary as a child and still love them now when I come across them as a thirty-something, so Scary all the way. So many things to catch the eye and keep you busy.

landismom said...

Great post, thanks for the shout. I'll recommend "Click, Clack, Moo" which has always appealed to the labor activist in me!

lazy cow said...

We like Richard Scarry and Dr Seuss (especially The Lorax and Are you my mother?), but we also go in for a lot of English books like Spot, Kipper the dog (I adore him!), Maisy (yuck, but the kids like her), Thomas the tank engine, The Large family (Jill Murphy), and any of the board books with tractors, trucks, firemen, diggers,etc with moveable parts. My son is 3 1/2 and still loves these.
Being an Aussie I have to endorse the Alison Lester recommendation, and Bob Graham is fantastic too.
Go to the library and read your son a heap of books while you're there (if you're anything like me you'll avoid storytime like the plague - way too many screaming children). You'll soon see what he gravitates to. Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Good toddler board books:

More More More Said the Baby (by Vera B. Williams)
A You're Adorable (if you sing it to him)

We're Going on a Bear Hunt
anything by Eric Carle (that's the Very Hungry Caterpillar guy), especially From Head to Toes, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear
anything by Sandra Boynton, especially Snoozers and Dinosaur's Binkit

Harper Growing Tree was a pretty reliable source of good board books. One called "Show Me!" was a huge hit. So was "How a Baby Grows".

Doppelsis said...

Doppelneice and Doppelnephew like a book called "I Love You, Stinkyface" by Lisa McCourt. It's about a child and his/her (child is not gender specific) mother talking before bedtime. The child keeps asking "Would you still love me if..." Another good one is "Amos's Sweater" by Janet Lunn. In this book there is an old sheep who gets angry when he is sheered and watches his wool being turned into a sweater for Uncle Henry. You and Sam will be able to check out these books and hundreds of others when you come for your visit this summer. WooHoo!

Anonymous said...

My boys (now 4 and 6) loved "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom", and I did enjoy reading it.

And I have to second the "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" and other Eric Carle books.

If he's into the dinosaur thing, "Dinosaur Roar" is great, as well as "How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?"

The first "long" book my boys were able to sit through was "Go Dog Go", which was followed soon after by "Are you my Mother?"

Sweetie Darling said...

Byron Barton also has a book called My Car, which my son loved. It's full of small words which he soon recognized as reading. Later, he found it hysterical to substitute the word "poopy" for every noun in the book as we read them aloud together. (Boys, oy.)

Another of my favorite children's books is The Piggy in the Puddle (Charlotte Pomerantz), a wonderfully tongue-trippy little story.

Anonymous said...

My friend's two year old loooves A Home for a Bunny (Margaret Wise Brown) and Richard Scarry. Two of my favorite books to use in toddler storytime are Toddlerobics and Toddlerobics: Animal Fun, both by Zita Newcome. They're tons o' fun and the toddlers love 'em.

Anonymous said...

I have a 3 year old and we love the following:
The Daddy Book
The Mommy Book
10 Little Lady Bugs
8 Silly Monkeys
Curious George

Anonymous said...

As the mother of an almost 2 year old (how old is Sam?) firm favourites in this house are anything with dinosaurs, anything with construction equipment ('C for Construction' was a big hit), anything with animals. Tonight's story was 'The Puzzle Duck' which the boy found hilarious, simply because it had ducks in it. No, i don't get it either.

Does Sam have a library card? My monkeyfrog LOVES getting books from the library, and we HAVE to go to the library at least 2 days a week. Helps that the library is just over the road.

Anonymous said...

Nomination #2 for "Harold and the Purple Crayon," which was my favorite book as a child and is kind of maybe sort of a little still my favorite book now.

I am afraid to have children because if they hate it, I might put them up for adoption.