parents

It’s a sad fact, but, if you’re the parent of a young girl, at some point, there’s a better than average chance that you’ll have to deal with the creeping horror that is the princess book genre. The princess craze is an amazing thing to behold. It’s like an airborne pathogen or some kind of morphic field cultural memory download. It just worms your way into your child’s subconscious with no obvious point of entry. Even if your daughter is the most tomboyish tomboy on the block, eventually, there’s like a 90% chance that you’re going to have to buy her a princess dress and a cringe-inducing selection of princess-themed reading material at some point. (No parent should have to read their child a book this pink at bedtime.)

Cinderella

How can something this boring be considered a “fantasy”?

And, trust me, resistance is futile. I’ve spent countless hours already trying to shape my daughter into a gender-proud feminist (and she’s FIVE) and yet there I was – taking her to a Disney Princess breakfast at EPCOT (by myself!) and making sure that we saw every damn princess in that park. Why? Because she simply loves princesses and fighting against their appeal is just going to make me the common enemy of both my daughter and the princess industrial complex. And I won’t survive if they unite to take me down.

So, how do I fight back? I mostly do it through books. I am still a MAJOR gatekeeper when it comes to my daughter’s reading material, so, at the moment, I do have the ability to keep her away from cheap throwaway titles like Barbie: The Princess Shoe Party Fashion Show and Cinderella: A Sparkly Royal Thanksgiving… which are EVERYWHERE and are just as soul-crushing as they sound. While I hide those titles behind the periodicals at the local library, I spend a good deal of time searching for really engaging princess stories that I then subtly push her way.

And that’s a challenge. It’s not easy finding princess books where the princesses aren’t passive, aren’t beholden to a prince, and have lives and agendas of their own. And, on the flip side, I also don’t want to give my daughter really hacky, didactic propaganda pieces where the author is just out to scream, “AND THE PRINCESS COULD DO ANYTHING THE PRINCE COULD DO! AND PROBABLY BETTER!” (If I could find the video of 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon as her high-school football place kicker, missing an easy kick and cheering “Equality!”, I’d put it here.) Even if I agree with the message, if it’s not a well-told story, forget about it.

As a service to you parents out there who may have children suffering from princess mania or who just simply can’t face down another royal Disney bedtime, here are six really impressive princess books that your kids will enjoy and that won’t make you curl your fists in post-feminist rage.

1. The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch

The Princess and the Pizza

The Princess and the Pizza

This is an extremely fun title – particularly if your child is already familiar with the normal Disney princess canon. Princess Paulina is struggling with peasant life now that her father, the king, has given up his throne to become a wood-carver. So, when she hears that Prince Drupert is seeking a wife, she hurries over to “get back to princessing” and finds herself in a competition against other potential princesses to be his bride. The humor in Princess and the Pizza is really irreverent and clever – it reminds me a lot of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre – particularly as Princess Paulina realizes how ridiculous the competition is. She’s competing against nicely exaggerated versions of classic princesses like Snow White and Rapunzel and, after a cooking competition where Paulina accidentally invents pizza, the book ends with a great twist – Paulina sees the value in what she’s created, tells Drupert to shove it, and opens a successful pizza joint. This is a very silly take on the whole notion of princessing, but Paulina is such an expansive, resourceful character that your princess-jonesing kids will love her. (Age range: 3 and up. It’s more of a storybook than a picture book, so there’s a fair bit of text on its 32 pages.)

2. Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised at all to hear me praising a book by Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith, but, all of my preferences and biases aside, Princess Hyacinth is one of the best books either of them has ever done. (I will one day write a much, much longer appraisal of Princess Hyacinthfor the blog, but I couldn’t leave it off this list.) The concept is elegantly absurd – there was a princess with a problem. She floats. She can’t stop herself from floating into the air at any time. And, around that premise, Heide and Smith craft a story that just feels fresh and unique – you’ve never read a princess book like this before. Hyacinth is annoyed that she can’t play outside with the other kids (particularly with Boy, the young man she has a crush on), but she also longs to take full advantage of her unique condition and soar among the clouds. After a close call where she almost floats away into the stratosphere, Hyacinth becomes much more comfortable with who she is and decides to stop fighting against her problem and learn to enjoy it.

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated

Smith delivers some of the best work of his career here, but, for me, it’s Heide’s prose that really makes Princess Hyacinth a classic. Her text reads like it was mined directly out of the mind of a kid, like the smartest seven-year-old in the world is telling you the greatest story she’s ever heard and, in my experience, kids eat that up. They can’t get enough of it. In my mind, the closing words of the book say it all: “The problem about the floating was never solved, and that’s too bad. But Princess Hyacinth was never bored again. GOOD.” Yes, it is. (Age range: 3 and up. There’s more text than some picture books, but it’s fairly large and fun to read.) [read the rest of the post…]

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Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same

Just in case you were wondering, Grace Lin’s “Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same” is one of the best kids’ books about twins I’ve ever read

A few months ago, I found out that two of my best friends in the world were having a baby. And not just “a baby”, they were having twins – twin girls – after years of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant. Needless to say, I was overjoyed, just completely over the moon for them. But then… all my OCD impulses kicked in and I immediately thought, “Oh man, I have to make sure those girls have a decent selection of reading material.” So, for the second time, I embarked on an attempt to “build a library” for a new baby (or babies, as it were).

I used the same methodology I used for my own daughter – I would buy one book a week during the pregnancy and I would try to stay away from books that they’d probably get as baby shower gifts. (Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, anything that’s available at Target, etc.)

However, a few weeks into the pregnancy, my friends turned to me and said, “Hey, remember that whole one-book-a-week thing you did for Charley? We’re doing it too.” I laughed hysterically, said “Good to know!”, and pulled out the eight-or-so books that I’d already bought them. Fortunately, we hadn’t doubled up on any of the books – but they’re twins, so I feel doubling up is OK – and it just reaffirmed my long-held opinion that my friends are AWESOME.

But it didn’t stop me from buying the books. All it did was add another variable to my selection process. So now I buy one book a week, try to stay away from books that they’d probably get as baby shower gifts, and try to stay away from books they’d buy themselves. (And I’m being a little more diligent about saving the gift receipts as well.)

They’re in around their 20th week of the pregnancy, so I haven’t finished my “40-week library for friends” yet, but I thought I’d share what I’d bought them so far to give you some ideas about buying books for expectant parents. (I’ll share the second half of my library list after the twins are born.)

If asked to “build a library” for the children of my very best friends, these are some of the books that would immediately rise to the top of my list. Yes, it’s subjective and selective and built around my own weird variables – there aren’t any Mo Willems books on the list yet because I wanted to see how many Pigeon books they’d get at their baby shower – but I think ANY of these books are great places to start.

If you’re building a library for a friend or even just looking for some great baby shower gifts, these books are definitely worth checking out. (Some of these books have been covered on the blog before, so I’ll provide links to the longer write-ups.)

1. My Friends by Taro Gomi

My FriendsLast September, I called My Friends “an ideal bedtime book. Truth be told, I literally read My Friends to my daughter at bedtime every single night I put her to bed from when she was five months old until she was about 15-months-old.” One of the best board books in history, in my humble opinion.

2. Press Here by Herve Tullet

Press HereLast November, I called Press Here “a fairly amazing book because it doesn’t wow its audience with a story or with particularly flashy illustrations, but rather it draws readers in with interactivity, with humor, and with that drive that comes with all printed books – the drive to see what happens next, to see what’s happening on the next page.”

3. Animalia by Graeme Base

AnimaliaWe actually don’t own a copy of Animalia ourselves – I don’t know if my daughter has ever read it – but it is simply one of the most expansive and beautiful alphabet books that I’ve ever encountered. Graeme Base has created this gorgeous tapestry of images, a collection of widescreen fantastical images of animal life, each accompanied by short alliterative phrases like “An Armoured Armadillo Avoiding an Angry Alligator.” I love the idea of taking the 70mm Cinemascope beauty of Base’s illustrations and plopping it in front of a young child. It will blow their minds. And they’ll think the alphabet is a million times more interesting than it actually is.

4. Jamberry by Bruce Degen

JamberryEasily one of our most read board books of all time. I don’t what makes Jamberry so appealing to young children, but my daughter loved it. The story follows a boy and his bear best friend berry-picking and wandering through a variety of berry-inspired landscapes. We start with “One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry” and, as the boy and the bear head out “looking for berries / berries for jam”, the verses quickly pick up steam. The whole book is a crescendo, throwing the friends into one bigger situation after another, escalating to the point where their travels involve marching bands and elephants figure-skating on jam. And every page of Jamberry is just teeming with berries in every way, shape, or form. It’s a lovely, energizing book to read out loud and, in my experience, kids love Bruce Degen’s visuals of his odd little berry universe.

5. The Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs by Paul Galdone

Little Red HenLast November, I wrote an article about “The Difficult Task of Introducing Your Kid to Folk Tales and Fairy Tales” and one of my recommendations was to steer kids towards “anything in Paul Galdone’s Folk Tale Classics series.” Galdone is a tremendous author and illustrator and his “Folk Tale Classics” represent some of the best retellings of “classic” stories that I’ve ever seen. If you want your kid to grow up with a firm knowledge of everyone from The Gingerbread Man to Red Riding Hood, Galdone is your man. For this library project, I went with two of my daughter’s favorite editions of Galdone’s folk tales – The Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs.

6. Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Bink and GollieBack in September, I waxed rhapsodic over the second Bink & Gollie book, Two for One, but the original is just as good, if not better. With Bink & Gollie, the authors – Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee, and Tony Fucile – have created a George & Martha for a new age. It’s a beautiful, hysterically funny look at friendship. As I mentioned in my review of Two for One, “I’ve been meaning to write about the original Bink & Gollie for months now (and I still probably will one day), but it’s one of those books that is SO good that it’s actually intimidating to write a review of it. How can I possibly convey the depth of the warmth and humor in Bink & Gollie in a simple blog post?” That’s all still true. This is a home library essential.

7. Frederick by Leo Lionni

FrederickI have never, ever encountered a book that does a better job of explaining the importance and value of art and artists than Leo Lionni’s Frederick. It takes all of these abstract concepts like art and emotion and, through the travails of these brilliant little collage mice, makes them easily understandable for young readers. This is a STAGGERING book with an amazing message, and it’s fun to read too. My daughter loves it. [read the rest of the post…]

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Creepy

Strangely enough, I know children’s picture books that are WAY creepier than this…

We have many, many different kinds of books in my daughter’s home library. Funny books, beautiful books, repetitive books, moralizing books, movie tie-in books, over-her-head books – even though most of those books are either picture books or early readers, just within those two formats, there are so many different subtle variations and sub-categories that it boggles the mind. But, there is one category, perhaps more than any other, which remains constantly on my radar, particularly at bedtime. Those are the books that my daughter absolutely loves, but that totally and completely creep me out.

Last week, Time Magazine critic and author Lev Grossman wrote a great article titled “Hating Ms. Maisy: The Joy, Sorrow and Neurotic Rage of Reading to Your Children” that should resonate with any parent who’s had to suffer through their fiftieth straight bedtime reading of their child’s favorite Berenstain Bear or Magic Tree House book. (BTW, Grossman’s novel The Magicians is definitely on my “Books My Kid Will Read in the Future” list.) Grossman talks about the unhealthy relationship that starts to develop between a parent and a bedtime book that’s fallen into heavy rotation – in his words: “The fact that my children’s taste is not my own, while obvious, is one I’ve found strangely hard to accept” – and I know exactly what he’s talking about.

One of my favorite parts in Grossman’s article is when he discusses how, after multiple readings, a parent’s “own unresolved neuroses and secret fears” can start getting wrapped up in their child’s favorite bedtime stories. (“Picture books can be kind of like Rorschach blots that way. You see what you want to see.”) Citing some examples, Grossman mentions that:

I find Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman creepy beyond belief—that snowman reminds me of the frightful Other Mother in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. The way he tries on the boy’s sleeping parents’ clothing… you can see he’s thinking about doing away with them, right then and there, with his bare, blobby snow-hands.

The Snowman

I don’t find this book nearly as creepy as Grossman does…

My first reaction to that paragraph was to laugh for two minutes straight. My second reaction was “Hey… my kid LOVES The Snowman!”

And she does. The Snowman might be one of our most frequently read bedtime books of all time. I’ve had magical experiences reading my daughter The Snowman after a long day playing out in the cold and building our own snowman. But, despite my family’s reverence for the book, I completely see where Grossman is coming from.

The story IS kind of freaky. A boy’s snowman comes to life. The boy invites it into his house late at night. The snowman and the boy sneak around the house, performing a series of random, mundane activities – staring at his sleeping parents, trying on clothes, playing in the family car, cooking a full sit-down dinner – that all seem fairly sinister in a house full of sleeping people in the middle of the night. The boy and the snowman then fly around the world (?), return home, and the next day, the snowman melts into oblivion. (Please understand that I’m deliberately summarizing the book in an odd fashion. We really do love that book.) And, while the potentially unsettling nature of the snowman’s nocturnal visit has never really emerged while reading the book to my daughter at bedtime, the second Grossman mentioned his own darker take on the book, as a parent, I immediately thought, “Oh yeah, I can see that.”

The Snowman

OK, Bobby, get the bungie cords and ball gags. Let’s show your parents what happens when they send you to bed without dessert.

And why can I see Grossman’s point so easily? Because I have my own list of books from my daughter’s home library that weird me out to my very core. [read the rest of the post…]

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You know that kid on YouTube who was so angry about getting books for Christmas? Well, my daughter is the opposite of him. She was crazy excited about the literary bounty that Santa dropped off this year and… as you can see from the picture below… Santa kinda didn’t know when to say “when” this Christmas.

Our Christmas Books

Next year, Santa needs to adopt a new "less is more" mentality

Because that’s a lot of books, right? I haven’t even updated the “library total” at the top of the blog because I still have to catalogue all the new arrivals.

But can you blame Santa? That is a very cool collection of books that he and Mrs. Claus put together this year. And he probably got a lot of great deals from local indie book stores, children’s book sales at his office (new hardcovers were $4! FOUR DOLLARS!), reduced-priced school book orders, and amazing used book store deals that he just couldn’t pass up.

In fact, Santa went SO nuts this year that he asked me to stash about 15 other books in a box under my workshop desk because he overbought to such a degree that he simply couldn’t justify giving my daughter that many books all at once. Santa has a pretty serious impulse-control problem… apparently.

So, expect reviews – lots of reviews – of our new additions to the library soon. In the meantime, I’ll be on Web MD, checking to see if I have the psychological symptoms of a chronic book hoarder.

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Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales

Strangely enough, this is NOT a great gift idea for a baby.

One of the most daunting tasks I’ve found in building a home library is figuring out some sort of comprehensive way to introduce fairy tales and folk tales to your child. Because I’m a completist. If I start a series of novels, I have to read ALL OF THEM, even if I start hating the series after volume three.  The same goes for TV shows, movie series, and comic books. And, if I do eventually abandon whatever series I’m reading or watching, I spend lazy afternoons on the internet keeping up with spoilers, so I know what’s going on, even if… you know, I now profess to hate it. (So many hours I’ve spent on Wikipedia reading Uncanny X-Men spoilers and I haven’t bought an issue since the 1990s.) It’s just how I’m wired.

So, as a completist, when I started buying books for my daughter before she was born, I was very cognizant of the fact that it was up to me, as her father, to introduce her to the world of folklore and I didn’t want to leave any gaps in her education. One of the THE first books I ever bought her was a copy of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illustrated by Josef Scharl, which was NUTS – literally nuts. That was an insane purchase for an unborn child. Because, while the volume is complete, it is also dense, dark, and academic, with teeny tiny text and annotations galore. It makes for a beautiful reference book, but, c’mon, a kid isn’t going to touch that book until they’re either a). an adult or b). a very, very lonely teenager.

Realizing my folly, I started searching for more accessible versions of classic folk and fairy tales to share with her. I had a checklist – do I have a Red Riding Hood for her? Check. Three Little Pigs? Check. Goldilocks? Check. And I thought I’d assembled a few very decent introductions to the world of folklore for our library. I was pleased.

Red Riding Hood

On the other hand, kids will love this one.

However, after she was born and we started reading books aloud more often, I realized that there were SO many holes in our collection. This became particularly apparent when reading the more modern fractured fairy tales – fractured fairy tales are the more meta, ironic takes on classic folklore. Many of these books – ranging from The Stinky Cheese Man to Each Peach Pear Plum to The Princess and the Pizza – have a lot of fun alluding to and referencing classic folklore, which is normally, in turn, great fun for the parents and kids reading at home. I’m a big, big child of the pop culture generation, so recognizing references is something deeply, deeply ingrained in my DNA. [read the rest of the post…]

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There are a few constants in the universe that you can always count on. Your DVR will always cut off the last 30 seconds of your favorite show. You will always hit traffic in the last hour of a two-day family road-trip. And, if you have children, you WILL own multiple copies of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. It’s just a fact of life. We’re at the point now where OBY/GYNs should just issue new parents copies of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny along with their coupons for formula and free copies of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Goodnight Moon

70% of the universe's missing dark matter is made up of copies of "Goodnight Moon"

This is not to say that either of these are bad books. On the contrary, Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are such ubiquitous baby reads because they’re really damn good. They’re gentle and genteel. They have this amazing rhythm to their text, which is somehow both calming and stimulating. As you read Margaret Wise Brown’s verses aloud, you can watch your child get sucked into the cadence of the words and the details of the illustrations and just see this sense of confident calm spread across their faces. Reading board books to the very young is a meditative experience, which, I’ll admit, I miss now that my daughter is older. And Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are the world’s most popular illustrated zen mantras for children.

However, as I alluded to earlier, they are also probably the two most popular books in the world to give to new parents. We received multiple copies of each when our daughter was born, and both have become baby shower gift staples. If you know a parent who doesn’t have a copy of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny… something’s weird there. I’m not saying they’re bad parents or anything, but, just FYI, there’s a 70% chance that their marriage and new baby is a cover for a CIA training facility or a DEA deep cover operation.

So, since Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are the ultimate no-brainers when it comes to picking books for your child, I thought I’d offer up five alternative selections for great board books that any kid should enjoy. Hopefully, these suggestions might help parents branch out a bit from the cozy charms of Margaret Wise Brown or, at the very least, give you some alternate ideas for baby shower gifts. (Evil parent advice: If you inscribe your copy of Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny with a personal message for the baby, it makes it impossible for the parent to return the copy you gave them, thus ensuring that they’ll keep your gift and take back the 12 other copies they received. You win!)

Note: Many of these books, including Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, exist in both in board book and hardcover versions. We have the board book versions of all of these works and I’d recommend the board editions, if only because it makes them a little more durable and explorable for kids 2 and under.

1. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

It’s hard not to like Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, which probably stands as one of the most read board books in our library. The Ahlbergs have created a wonderfully interactive story that’s part nursery rhyme and part look-and-find for beginners. On each page, the authors ask the young readers to play “I Spy” to find some of the most iconic characters in early children’s lit, a series of happy-go-lucky characters that all meet in the end for a pie picnic. We begin with “Each Peach Pear Plum / I spy Tom Thumb”. After your child finds Tom Thumb reading on the branches of a peach tree, we turn the page to read “Tom Thumb in the cupboard / I spy Mother Hubbard.” This pattern continues throughout the book – one character in the foreground, one character hidden somewhere in the background – as we’re introduced to Cinderella, the Three Bears, Little Bo-Peep, Jack and Jill, Robin Hood, and more.

Each Peach Pear Plum

Each Peach Pear Plum

Janet Ahlberg’s beautifully detailed illustrations will give your child wide, dense landscapes to explore, and the story actually works as a nice way to introduce classic literary characters to young readers. My daughter knew some, but not all of the characters in Each Peach, but rather than that being a negative, it actually made her even more interested in learning about the characters she didn’t know, which, as a parent, gave me a great in-road to introduce to her classic nursery rhymes and fairy tales that we hadn’t encountered yet. An extremely fun bedtime book.

2. Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig

Pete's a Pizza

Pete's a Pizza

Steig is probably best known as the creator of Shrek and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, but Pete’s a Pizza is the first Steig work that my daughter fell in love with. The premise is simple. On a rainy day, a young boy named Pete is stuck inside, unable to play ball with his friends. And then, Steig gives us, what might be, two of my favorite sentences in any board book ever: “Pete’s father can’t help noticing how miserable his son is. He thinks it might cheer Pete up to be made into a pizza.”

That absurd statement transforms into a really loving and funny exchange between a father and son, where Pete’s father creates a new game where he pretends to turn Pete into a pizza. It’s actually a very fun idea for a game – my daughter and I now turn each other into pizzas all the time. Pete’s father kneads his son, rolling him out like dough. He then tosses him, sprinkles him with oil (it’s really water), adds some tomatoes (they’re really checkers), and, of course, there’s the stage in the recipe where the pizza just has to be tickled. Shrek and Sylvester are classic literary works, but there’s something about Pete’s a Pizza that, as a father, I just really responded to. The facial expressions of Pete’s family are so expressive and intimate, and the story does an amazing job of capturing the manic fun of a family playing together, inside on a rainy day, when someone has invented a simple new game that is really, really fun. I can’t think of another book that does a better job of portraying the giddy fun of parents playing – really down-on-your-knees, getting-dirty PLAYING – with their children than Pete’s a Pizza. [read the rest of the post…]

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On some level, I get the appeal of personalized children’s books. The idea is that your child sees his or her name in print, they get excited, they get engaged… I get that concept. I’ll even admit that I’ve seen the concept work before – my wife once read through an entire Roald Dahl novel, switching out the name of the lead character for my daughter’s name (they’re similar names), and my daughter loved it. So I understand why there’s a whole cottage industry of companies that specialize in personalizing children’s books. The concept is appealing – I can definitely see why it’s such a popular baby shower gift item. The concept seems sound. I just, personally, haven’t seen it done well yet.

Winnie the Pooh Personalized Book

Your child was never meant to go to Hundred Acre Woods. At least, not like this...

Maybe I’m just being cynical. Or I haven’t seen the good ones yet. (If you know of a really great one, tell me and I will gladly eat a heaping plate of crow.) But, on a whole, personalized kids’ books just seem pretty damn awkward. They normally come in two varieties – books where they break down the spelling of your child’s name (“C is for clever, H is for helpful…”) or books where they actually try to shoehorn your child into the story. For me, the name books are the far less offensive of the two options. Those seem to the purest in terms of selling the concept of “your kid wants to see their name in print.” You can see an example of one of those books here – from ISeeMe.com in a personalized book called My Very Own Pirate Tale. (The website proudly crows that “Brooke Shields, Courteney Cox-Arquette and Jessica Alba purchase our books as children’s gifts!” See? US Weekly is right. They ARE just like us.)

The “story” and art for My Very Own Pirate Tale is mediocre at best – why not just buy your kid a copy of How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon? It has plot! And characters! And it’s funny! – but, sure, I can see how some kids might actually benefit from seeing their names broken down letter by letter like that. It wouldn’t be my favorite vehicle for teaching kids about the letters in their own names, but, fine, if it works for your child, so be it. I can accept those titles as a very specialized and expensive form of alphabet books, although, c’mon, be honest, your kid is going to be MUCH more interested in the elements of their own name rather than the skeleton of a half-hearted pirate story.

However, the “working your kid into the plot” personalized books are twenty times worse than the “breaking down your name” books. In these titles, the plot is actually a selling point – YOUR child will go on an adventure with the Disney Princesses, Winnie the Pooh, Santa Claus, etc. – so they can’t just hide behind the fact that they remembered all of the letters in your child’s name. The problem is these “stories” pretty much embrace the lowest common denominator in terms of storytelling. Maybe it’s because no author worth their salt would actually want to put their heart and soul into crafting a story where the lead character is called “INSERT_YOUR_NAME_HERE”. But the stories in these things… dear lord, in the ones I’ve seen, the level of storytelling reminds me of those Hostess ads from the 1970s where Captain America stops an alien invasion by giving them a heaping pile of Hostess Fruit Pies. (That ad actually exists. Click here for a great archive of those old ads with some hilarious commentary included.) [read the rest of the post…]

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Go the F**k to Sleep

We’ve all been there….

If the runaway success of Adam Mansbach’s Go the F**k to Sleep has taught us anything – other than the fact that profanely begging your kid to go to bed is, apparently, a strangely universal experience – it’s that there is a definite market for kids’ books that are really for grown-ups. Yes, they might look like lavish children’s tomes with their 32 pages of lushly rendered illustrations, but, c’mon, there are two different picture books based on Bob Dylan songs. NO kids were asking Santa for those books. Those were for the parents.

And I get it. These “kids’ books for grown-ups” exist for two main reasons. First, there’s total value in parents wanting to share something that they love with their kids. Even though it’s not my cup of tea, I totally get why a die-hard Dylan fan would cherish a kid-friendly way to introduce their offspring to “Forever Young.” And, second, there’s something just inherently hilarious about something that looks like it’s for kids, but really, it’s got a secret grown-up dirty side. (It’s the reason why there’s almost nothing as funny as watching a toddler say the f-word.)

There are a lot of these kinds of books out there, but I thought I’d share two of my favorites.

Space Oddity

Major Tom, you’ve really made the grade…

First up, illustrator Andrew Kolb‘s ridiculously cool picture book version of the classic David Bowie song “Space Oddity”. Yes, that “Space Oddity” – Ground control to Major Tom, take your protein pills, and put your helmet on…. Kolb turned Bowie’s optimistically tragic space anthem into an epic modernist picture book for kids that he originally released as a free download on his website. However, EMI and the rights holders for “Space Oddity,” perhaps a wee bit predictably, brought down the hammer on Kolb and the download link is no more. The artwork is still up on Kolb’s site, sans lyrics and labeled now as “Space Picture Book”, with a note that specifies “[t]his is merely a concept and no physical form of this book will be made until all involved approve of the collaboration.”

But you can still browse through a copy of the original version of Kolb’s book on Wired.com’s Underwire blog here, and they even provide a link, so you can play Bowie’s song while you read.

[Author’s aside: Thanks to the movie Labyrinth, my daughter is OBSESSED with David Bowie. She loves him – loves “Magic Dance,” loves “Rebel, Rebel”… she’s a big fan. In a misguided attempt to foster her newfound Bowie love, I burned her a CD with a bunch of Bowie hits without, admittedly, really looking at the songs I was putting on there. So, while driving to swim class one day, I was suddenly hit with a barrage of very urgent, very worried questions from the back seat about what exactly was happening to Major Tom. The song has since migrated its way off the mix CD.] [read the rest of the post…]

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Maurice Sendak – the man responsible for such Library favorites as Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen – released the first book that he’s both written and illustrated in 30 YEARS earlier this month. (Not that Sendak hasn’t been working all this time. He’s still a prolific illustrator – my daughter is a BIG fan of Mommy?, his epic monster-mash of a pop-up book that he illustrated for author Arthur Yorinks in 2006.)

Maurice Sendak's Bumble-Ardy

Maurice Sendak’s Bumble-Ardy

His new book is called Bumble-Ardy, which we’re hoping to get our hands on soon. But, while promoting Bumble-Ardy, Sendak spoke to the New York Times and offered this fantastic insight on the responsibility that a children’s author has to his dual audiences of kids and parents:

You mustn’t scare parents. And I think with my books, I managed to scare parents. Randolph Caldecott was a sneaky guy. Because under the guise of stories about little animals, he had the same passion for childhood. If you just look at the surface of them, they look like nice English books for kiddies. But his books are troubling if you spend time with them. He inspired me. I adored Caldecott. Probably his idea, or my interpretation of him, was that children’s books should be fair to children. Not to soften or to weaken.

Before that, the attitude towards children was: Keep them calm, keep them happy, keep them snug and safe. It’s not a putdown of those earlier books. But basically, they went by the rules that children should be safe and that we adults should be their guardians. I got out of that, and I was considered outlandish. So be it.

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