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Category Archives: Reality

Sometimes these books depict things that are very real, including things that are scary (for my daughter and for me), things that should not be imitated (especially not by toddlers), and things that are just, well, too real.

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.

Changing and Mother Stalking

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Kids change so quickly. If you are a parent and you have not heard this, then you either don’t know anyone or you never go outside your house. It’s true, they do change so quickly. My impression of some books also changes as my daughter changes. For instance, we’ve been reading Karen Katz’s Where is Baby’s Mommy? for a while. When she was little I thought, “Oh, so sweet! I can’t wait to be able to play hide-and-go-seek with my daughter, sounds so fun!” It is fun! But as kids grow more mobile you also lose the ability to stick them somewhere and have a guaranteed moment alone. I mean, maybe with crying, but at least be alone: be alone in the shower, be alone by one’s computer, be alone, just be alone. Now that my daughter is old enough to talk and walk, if I want to be alone and she does NOT want me to be alone it is very difficult to make happen (maybe this will be easier in a bigger apartment?). If I somehow trapped her in something so that I could take a shower alone I would still hear “Is your hair wet? Are you in the shower? Are you using soap? Are you washing your hair? Is your hair wet?” If I lock a door (because someone else is around to watch her) to try to grab some time for myself and my daughter would like to be with me she will not only knock on the door, but also (thinking I did not hear or that I am an idiot who does not understand knocking) then SAY “Knock knock I want to come in!” Yes, that is what knocking means, I know. Generally I really like spending time with my daughter so this occasional mother stalking isn’t a big problem, but I have to say that now when I read Where is Baby’s Mommy? I kind of feel like the mom isn’t playing hide-and-go-seek, but is actually hiding from her child. The end isn’t a happy moment in which the child finds the mom, succeeding at the game, but is a moment in which the mother lost — she needs a better hiding place to have a moment alone. They always look under the bed!

Monsters exist and holding your parents hostage

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Glen Wright’s I Sleep in My Own Bed starts off (as many of these books do) by trying logic, in an attempt to reason with the young listeners. One of the problems with getting toddlers to sleep is sometimes they are not logical, they often don’t understand “Go to sleep or you will be annoyed and annoying tomorrow” (I wouldn’t phrase it quite that way if speaking directly to my daughter). The beginning of the book talks about why the boy doesn’t sleep in other places (his sister’s room, his parents’ room, etc.). I like this part. Then he starts talking about how he doesn’t sleep in the washer or fridge. My daughter has never attempted to get into either of these appliances and I don’t want her to think it is a possibility or something one can consider, the way one considers other people’s beds. Next thing about this book is we live in a one bedroom apartment (this is changing soon, so excited!). Wait, this has nothing to do with this book, you say? Well the boy also talks about how both of his parents’ cars live in the garage (They have a garage and a huge house, including a basement, a shed, etc.!). So a good deal of the “logic” of the book doesn’t make any sense for us and frankly, if I had a shed there would be nights I’d let my daughter sleep in it. Finally, one of the reasons the boy sleeps in his room is because the monsters can’t get in and he can hold his parents hostage. I’ve been held hostage before by a two year old, it’s truly scary and I don’t like to see it mentioned in print. I also do not like the idea of monsters outside of my door, I mean, my daughter’s door.

But seriously, no more monkeys jumping on the bed

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I’m taking a break this Monday from talking about Curious George so that I don’t depress you too much. One of my daughter’s all time favorite books, song, things in general is No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. Here is a video of her listening to the song, reading the book (illustrated by Tina Freeman) to herself, and then running off in search of a monkey missing from her monkey collection. And, yes, she lined them up that way. There are coordinated movements that go with the book (which has great illustrations and varies the male/female pronouns, given the basic text it does its best to make it interesting) and song. We have a dance that involves throwing her monkeys that accompanies the song (we also have multiple versions of the song). I’ll admit that I have done as much as possible to make more exciting for myself the reading of this book. Why? Because she loves it and it is about the most monotonous thing you will ever read, a statement I make after having read a huge number of incredibly monotonous children’s books that pride themselves on intense repetition. The book starts “Ten little monkeys, jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped his head, Mama called a doctor and the doctor said, ‘No more monkeys jumping on the bed.’” I just typed that from memory in about a second, not because I am that good at memorizing things or typing, but because it is that ingrained into me. I know it better than my name (I say my full name less often then I read this book). Guess how it continues? “Nine little. . . ” I’ll stop there. I actually mind it less and less, the more we add to it (the acting out of the monkeys jumping with the stuffed animals, my sign for “calling” gets more complex every time, it’s progressed back in time from cell to landline to rotary to pay phone, next I’ll be working on speaking to an operator and getting her to place my call). I wonder if I should have tried this in my class this semester, the majority of my students hated Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy — maybe it would have been better if the repetition in that book were accentuated with hand movements, miming, a song, and acting out parts of it with stuffed animals? Are there any books your kids make you read to them that you find a little dull and what do you do to make it better for yourself? Are there books full of repetition that you remember loving as a child? Why do you think the monkeys are so damn stupid that they  keep falling off the bed? Especially that last one, how hard is it to jump on a bed without falling off when you are by yourself? Why don’t they all just jump on the floor? Why doesn’t the Mom buy them a trampoline? What is wrong with these monkeys?

I did that!

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A number of words and sentences either bring amazement and joy or horror and fear into my life, depending on the context. I’ll provide three examples. “I did that” can mean my daughter got herself dressed, including finding matching socks (something I still have problems doing for myself on occasion), and has strapped herself into her stroller and is ready to go. Or… “I did that” can mean that she dumped out all her toys, somehow located a sharp object, poured water everywhere, and poked holes in my clothes, which are, somehow, inexplicably also on the floor. When my daughter yells “Mommy mommy mommy” when I arrive to pick her up from school, it is one of the best moments of my day. When I am trying to have a short phone conversation and my daughter decides she wants all my attention, yelling MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY (over and over and over again as loudly as possible) to get it, I almost wish she had never learned how to say mommy. “Read the book, read the book” can be amazing, I love that she loves reading. It is great when she picks out a book we both enjoy. “Read the book, read the book” when it is used as an excuse to not go to sleep (and I am exhausted) or when she is trying to get me to read AGAIN some book I do not like reading and have already read to her (repeatedly) is really annoying. I also feel like she has figured out that I do not like denying this request and is manipulating me. “I love you” is never annoying. It is always wonderful. We read I love you, Stinky Face (written by Lisa McCourt and illustrated by Cyd Moore). It’s a sweet story about a mother letting her kid know that no matter what she will always love him (even if he were a skunk or a crocodile or a dinosaur or an ape). He imagines that he is a variety of not traditionally lovable creatures (my daughter, predictably, yells, “Don’t eat, kiss!” at this picture). My daughter also spent a day saying “I love you, stinky face” rather than “I love you, mom.” I have to admit, it makes me less likely to want to read the book. It doesn’t change the sentiment, but it also doesn’t make me feel particularly awesome. Just when I thought “I love you” was unambiguously safe.

No! No! No! No!

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We’re working on having our daughter learn Italian. There are times when it is easier to integrate it into her life and times when it is harder. There are moments when she resists it and moments when she loves it. She has consistently really enjoyed Noemi dice no!  (story by Anna Lavatelli and illustrations by Paolo Turini). Even when she doesn’t want to speak Italian or hear it, she’ll happily listen to me read this book to her over and over again. It’s about a little girl whose first word is “No!” She starts saying “no” all the time and that is all she will say. Everyone is worried and tries to get her to say something else. Finally, they discover that she wasn’t saying “no” to everything, but trying to say her name, Noemi. I think my daughter may love it because her name also begins with “no” and she called herself “Nono” for a while (as did people at her daycare and her longest standing, closest friend). Now she alternates between her name and “Nono.” We hadn’t thought of how often one would be saying “no” to a child when we named her (or that “Nono” would be a potential, however temporary, nickname). She used to repeat things she shouldn’t do (burn herself, jump off high things, the basics), by saying “No no, Nono” (which sounded a lot like “no no no no”). It’s completely not confusing. Uh. The book plays with this confusion. It also has colorful pictures on one side and the big text on the other, along with solitary objects that she points to and we talk about in Italian, which is great. I kind of hope she loves it because of the narrative and not just because of the pictures (as arresting as they are), because … well. I’ll let you admire a couple of depictions of Signor Groppo yourself. What was your first word? Your child’s? How many times a day do you think you say “no”?

I am so sorry, George!

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Tired of the often formulaic twenty-first century Curious George books, I sought out the originals, thinking they must be better and different. They are different. I am going to write about the first one for now. I had a vague memory of a picture of the man with the yellow hat’s hat taking up the entirety of a page and of the man getting to know Curious George. Why do you think the man with a yellow hat doesn’t have a name? Why is he just the “man”? I had thought it was because his primary importance was his relationship to George, his own identity hardly mattering. Or that he could represent anyone, any “man” (human) with a curious little monkey (“monkey,” or child ), so his identity is kept general. Now I think it may be because if his name were known his actions would be protested and he might even be prosecuted. Some people would be picketing the outside of the man in the yellow hat’s building, pleading for Curious George’s freedom.

I read the original Curious George growing ever more horrified at what was happening and not happy that I had identified with the man with the yellow hat. His trying to keep George in line isn’t really like my trying to keep my daughter from causing chaos, but more like a kidnapper trying to keep their abductee in line, and imprisoned. Perhaps I remembered the yellow hat the best, because the hat is what is used to lure George… into a bag. George is taken away from his home and then lives with the offender. The man with the yellow hat rips George from his homeland and forces him into a zoo.  Am I overreacting? When I was done reading and my daughter was busy playing with her monkeys, I googled “curious george problem” to see if I were alone. I am not. Is this some sort of overly sensitive twenty-first century reading? Overly p.c.? A lot of nursery rhymes are shocking if you think about what they are saying for more than a second, but I don’t have a problem with them. I love Barbar, remember it from when I was a kid and enjoy it now. In it a hunter shoots Barbar’s mother and Babar runs off, joining the human community (in some ways). But there is no franchise that focuses on the friendship between the hunter and Babar.

In good news, it has completely changed my view of Curious George’s mischief and I can go back to reading the more formulaic Curious George books, rooting for George to cause trouble. Did the man in the yellow hat tell you to sit quietly? Please, George, do the opposite of that and I am so sorry I misunderstood your situation. George’s curiosity is his last tie to his former identity. I should not have judged you so quickly. You are a good little monkey! Some people are displeased with the people who have a strong negative reaction to the original book point out that the Reys left Germany (and then France) to escape the Nazis (carrying the manuscript for Curious George). I am not claiming that the original shouldn’t be read (obviously Curious George is a classic that can withstand a little critique) or that the Reys themselves have issues, but it does fundamentally alter how I view the man in the yellow hat and his relationship with George. There is a lot more to say about the originals, I’ll be updating next week, on Monkey Monday.