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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.

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

Google Searches and Children’s Books

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Most of the searches that lead people to my site make sense: they look up a specific book that I have talked about. But then there are some bizarre searches (and I wonder how many pages and pages of other searched items they had to look through to get to my site, seeing as it would probably not show up in the first 25 pages!). For instance, someone looked up “no” and got to my site. Some people seem to be looking for answers I (and the internet in general) cannot necessarily provide, like “am i a character in a book?” Some just kind of disturb me and the searcher is probably not interested in my site (“full frontal child nudity,” “tickle-me kiss,” and “george grover prison”). By the way, “the little engine that could by watty piper” is completely beating “mr. noodles from elmo” (two most popular searches I have). Take that, Elmo. What strange searches lead people to your site?

The Super Hungry Dinosaur (by Martin Waddell & illustrated by Leonie Lord)

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A very fun book I’ve mentioned before.

Why both?

Scarry as a reference point for life

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 “More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary.”

— Tim Kreider,  The ‘Busy’ Trap