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She’s learning and I didn’t even notice

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Elisa Kleven’s The Lion and the Little Red Bird is about a bird who wonders why a lion’s tail is different colors on different days (red, orange, blue, etc.). She asks him, but he doesn’t understand bird. They form a friendship despite the language barrier. A rainstorm ruins the bird’s nest and causes the lion to bring her inside his cave, where the reason for his ever-changing tail is revealed. When the bird finally finds out that he’s been painting with his tail she sings a beautiful song that the lion loves. It’s about inter-special friendship, the power of art and music to transcend cultural differences, and colors. One hardly notices the colors with everything else that is going on and I love that. My daughter also loves lions, so she’s happy. The rare books that trick one into learning are great — not because my daughter needs to be tricked, but because I enjoy reading books which don’t make me think “now I am reading about counting, now I am reading about coloring, she is learning about coloring now, she is learning about counting now” but instead have some sort of narrative.

There is a great Pimpa book (Pimpa va a casa di Nino) which, although not as subtle, manages to count from one to nine with a convincing (though slightly bizarre) narrative. The main trick is, I think, that completely different things are counted. So instead of say, just choosing a totally random example, one monkeys, two monkeys, three monkeys, etc. it is about a dog who gets in a canoe to visit her penguin friend Nino. [I used to have some stuff here about rainbows, but it proved too controversial and I revealed my lack of scientific rainbow knowledge.] I bet you are more interested in what happens at the end of this book than in the ten little monkeys jumping on the bed one, right? Armando gets a treat from the North Pole.

Choose your own non-adventure

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Apparently, according to wikipedia, I grew up in the heyday of choose your own adventure books. I was kind of excited when I looked them up that their origin story has to do with telling your kids bedtime stories and running out of imaginative material. I have never given my daughter a choice in what happens in her bedtime story, because I never get a chance: she often tells me what is going to happen, without any prompting. Let me rephrase this, it is almost impossible to get her to stop telling me what I am supposed to tell her. She also gets irritated and will change the story. Sometimes she is in the mood to see a dragon, sometimes she is not (this can change from minute to minute). She is often pretty insistent about hanging out with lemurs, bunny rabbits, and monkeys. Recently I had her fly with purple monkeys. “Mom,” she informed me, “monkeys do not fly.” I told her it was okay since it was a story. In the enchanted forest she lives in (in her bedtime story) flying monkeys are questionable but library dwelling dragons, talking lemurs, party going gorillas, tiny giraffes (she often asks me to make the animals little so she can hold them), and mermaids are fine. She takes her monkeys very seriously.

A lot of kids books are kind of interactive. They will ask the reader/listener “Do you know x?” or “Can you guess what y is?” “Do you know where z is?” Often they have correct answers because it is a question about something in the book. There are also books that ask open questions (What does your daddy do?). Then there are books that are kind of the opposite of choose your own adventure books, because they ask a question, you have a choice, but the result is going to be the same no matter what you choose. In Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus if you tell the pigeon he can drive the bus, the story makes no sense. Perhaps that is part of the point (and the title does give some direction), that the listener should learn how to respect directions and say “no” since they were told to do so. Seeing as my listener is a two year old she frequently tells the pigeon he can drive the bus. But he doesn’t because that is not how the story is set up. Do you think if I asked Mo Willems really nicely he would write a choose your own adventure kids’ book I could read to my daughter? Monster at the End of this Book (the first one, not the adulterated Elmo version), by Jon Stone and illustrated by Michael Smollin, actually does a pretty good job at pulling off a children’s version of “choose your own adventure:” if you listen to Grover and stop turning the pages, you just stop turning the pages (putting down the book) and if you don’t listen to him, you keep reading and find out what happens. Kind of limited though, because you in fact have just chosen to not continue on the adventure.

My child may be psychic

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So this post may be along the lines of “things one shouldn’t admit aloud, let alone write for the whole world to see.” Sometimes I think my daughter can read my mind. We’ll be walking along and she asks me about someone I was just randomly thinking about, even though we weren’t walking by anything connected to the person. She’ll ask me about something I am thinking to myself that I do not understand how she could guess or know that I was thinking. Anyway, she has also (a more commercial, less unnerving, more annoying personality trait) figured out that representations of stuff represents stuff that can be acquired. She’ll point to a picture of a toy or book and tell me she wants it. So far I have had a few answers: “Great” (hoping she’ll forget about it). “Why don’t you tell your aunt?” (Hoping my sisters will just find this cute and not materialistically horribly spoiled AND hoping my daughter will forget about it by the time she sees them). “Why don’t you tell your grandma?” (hoping my daughter will forget by the time she sees her and because I am kind of interested to see what my mom would do, this would not have worked for me as a kid at all, but grandchildren are different). “Okay, maybe for your birthday” (Which is in about a year). I have also made a few exceptions and gotten her some things, all of them monkey books. Three of them are Five Little Monkey books she mentioned wanting (already discussed this, frankly I wanted them as well) and the other is Curious George Goes to a Costume Party. She, for some strange reason, repeatedly pointed to this Curious George book (pictured on the back of one of her other Curious George books). Over and over again. I got it for her and discovered it involved Curious George (one of her top ten favorite monkeys) JUMPING ON A BED (one of her favorite things monkeys do). How did she know this book would have this in it? How did she choose this particular book? Answers: she somehow read it somewhere else (but her school tells us the books they read) and knew it, it is a coincidence, the cover of this Curious George is particularly interesting (below, would this be the one you would choose?) or she is psychic.

Making the world colorful with reading

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I remember reading/having read to me Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (written by Judi Barrett and drawn by Ron Barrett) as a kid. I primarily remember the story within the story, of a city whose weather provides sustenance not water. I did not remember as vividly the wonderful frame story, depicted in black and white. A grandfather flips a pancake, it lands on the kids (providing the idea for the story he tells in which food falls from the sky). At the end the kids go out and the sun looks like a pat of butter (it’s in color, unlike the rest of the frame). Real life events provide the inspiration for a fictional story that then changes the way the listeners perceive the world. I think as a kid I even thought that maybe, just maybe it wasn’t actually a story and that the sun at the end could be a pat of butter. Because, yeah, fiction is that good.

Using my words I will destroy you

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In The Paper Bag Princess (story by Robert N. Munsch and illustrations by Michael Martchenko) and Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys Wash a Car a less physically powerful, but smart princess/monkey is able to get a dragon/crocodiles to use up their strength using just words. The princess and the monkey ask the other more reptilian creatures to prove their might and in the process of proving their strength, they use up the energy they otherwise might have spent eating the princess/monkeys. A fox meanwhile uses his words to outwit and eat a Gingerbread Man in The Gingerbread Man (or at least Walt Kelly’s version of the Gingerbread Man, from Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies). The gingerbread man is so fast he thinks no one can catch him; he is so excited to boast of this to the fox that he gets too close to him and ends up eaten. All of these stories offer some great little lessons (if you feel like looking for a lesson), using your intelligence you can do a lot even if you aren’t super strong, don’t rely too much on any one quality (strength, fire breathing, beauty, etc.), and, most of all, don’t have too much pride in that one quality — it will be your downfall. You will end up eaten or hungry. 

Clifford and Where are your posts?

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I know you’ve been sitting at your computer, hitting the refresh button (or something), waiting for more posts to show up. I am sure you have tons of free time to stare at my blog. I’ve written some posts but hadn’t had time to scan the pictures for them (vital). A post without a picture can just be rather sad. I’m scanning now and will have some posts up over the next couple of days. What exactly have I been doing instead of scanning children’s books? I’ve been packing, doing work, and trying to get to see people and things in the bay area that I won’t get to see anymore soon. Today we went to the Bay Area Discovery Museum (beautiful views and great museum) which is having a special Clifford exhibit. Clifford is a big red dog. My daughter’s father somehow hadn’t realized how big until today. I heard him say more than once “That really is a big dog; why is that dog so big?” Brian Danilo (“THE FIVE MOST DANGEROUS CHILDREN’S BOOKS EVER WRITTEN, ACCORDING TO SEAN HANNITY,” McSweeney’s) discusses how Clifford is dangerous because he represents Communism. Before you get upset, it is supposed to be funny (see below). I had always thought about Clifford as more of a Capitalist dog, because his owner who has the “biggest, reddest dog on our street” is really into her dog being really big. Big good. Get more. Crush others. Buy stuff. Clifford is really really popular. Here is a large crowd of people around a person dressed up like Clifford (the museum was not this crowded at all; Clifford just really draws a crowd).

1. Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Birdwell

According to a reliable source,* Norman Birdwell, a close personal friend of Karl Marx and adviser to Pol Pot, was a card-carrying member of the American Communist Party. The metaphor is obvious: a big red canine teaches children the importance of sharing and working together. (While cleverly ignoring the consequences of such un-American behavior.)

Stories include “Clifford Goes to School” and “Clifford Goes to Work, Where He Organizes a Workers’ Revolution.” Noticeably absent from the collection of short stories are those resulting from the success of the red menace’s machinations, such as “Clifford Institutes a Five-Year Plan” or “Clifford Murders Political Dissidents.”

*Former Senator Joseph McCarthy

Sneezing monkeys

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Speaking of google searches, do NOT look up “do monkeys sneeze.” You’ll turn up one sexually strange link and one weird picture. Fine, I’ll share the picture (from bbc news). Sometimes my daughter and I pretend to take each other’s noses. Myanmar monkeys could not play this game (that or they did, and played it too well). Sneezing monkeys get into a lot of trouble in books; sneezes cause monkeys to make a mess and almost wake up Mama when they are making cakes and to disrupt their monkey bridges (with a wet lion as a result, who knows what happens next! It may be far worse than messed up cake). If I only acquired monkey knowledge from my daughter’s books I would think crocodiles and sneezes were the two biggest dangers facing monkeys.

Image from The Monkey Bridge (story by Joy Cowley, illustrations by Susan Moxley)