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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.

Wake Up, Mom!

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In Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake, the monkeys hammer, saw, burn things in the oven, throw food on the floor, fall, let strange men come into the house, and cause a fire truck (with the sirens going EEEEEEEEEEE) to arrive. The book used to be called Don’t Wake Up Mama and, honestly, I am not sure what could wake up Mama! She wears earmuffs on her ears that appear to be super noise and worry blockers. They are amazing (are these legal? I may want some, but I am not sure I could block out worry). Then there is another book my daughter loves, Joy Cowley’s Wake Up, Mom! which is basically the opposite of Don’t Wake Up Mama. I cannot pretend I have any idea about how hard it must be to work on a farm (a small or large one). I do know that I understand waking up and feeling like there are all these needy things around that need to be taken care of (be they sheep, children, papers, dirt on the floor, articles, or other things). I have read this book so many times I can read it on autopilot and here is what my brain is saying to me as I read it. (Side note, there are so many kids in children’s books named Henry and Harry, why?)

We can all be monkeys, mice, dogs, etc.

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When reading Maus one of my students (who was not from the West and was not “white”*) mentioned that having the characters represented as mice made them easier to relate to, since she just assumed the mice looked like her, whereas had they been drawn like white Westerners there would have been a stronger sense of estrangement (something I had not considered in terms of Art Spiegelman’s work before). I thought of this again when looking up something about Groovy Girls (my daughter loves them) and found a thread on Berkeley Parents Network about getting dolls that don’t look white. Even if you vary your dolls’ complexions or read books that represent different kind of human families, they have to look like something, but there are tons and tons of books that have animals and tons of kids play with stuffed animals (rather than dolls), opening up more imaginative possibilities. Some books leave open more possibilities than others. The Five Little Monkey books seem to be a large family of monkeys (five siblings, they sleep in one bed — sometimes and sometimes bunk beds—  and sometimes they jump on the big bed) with just a mom; whether or not it is a single mom, a divorced mom, a widowed mom, a mom whose wife is away, a mom whose husband is away, is not clear to me from the books themselves. It’s pretty nice that the monkeys could represent such a range of backgrounds (totally nondescript monkey family). In the final scene of Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake (formerly Don’t Wake Up Mama, more on that later) the Mom appears to maybe be flirting with the firefighter, but she could also just be happy about the cake (if she is flirting, is it just friendly? questioning her sexual identity? unfaithful? exploring her new options?). Given the Mama’s situation, I got curious enough about the author’s background (Eileen Christelow) that I looked it up, thinking I would do a quick, always problematic biographical reading of the monkeys’ situation. Luckily it didn’t really change my mind that the situation is very open to interpretation. Another parental figure may show up in one of the other books, we haven’t read all of them yet but we are going to soon (we’ve read four of them over and over and over again). My daughter has Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake memorized and as cute as I find it when she says “Don’t spill the oil!” in the process of reciting the book, I need a little more variety in my life.

*All these terms are so problematic/meaningless/too meaningful.

See the Monkeys Reading in Bed

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I mentioned that we discovered Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys books not too long ago. My daughter predictably LOVES them. She now has four of them memorized. I am not ecstatic about the fact that I knowingly accepted another copy of little monkeys jumping on the bed into our household, but I really should not complain. (I once mentioned being tired to my officemate because my daughter had kept me up all night. He shared the Italian proverb, “Hai voluto la bicicletta? Pedala!” Which means — you wanted a bike? Pedal! Similar to “you made your bed; now sleep in it.”). The Five Little Monkeys book about reading rhymes, which is always fun/slightly maddening after a while, and is so far my favorite. In it a mother is trying to get her children to go to sleep. They won’t because they keep reading (and enjoying reading). Then finally she confiscates their books and READS them to herself, keeping herself up. I completely understand this, not because I read my daughter’s books to myself after she’s gone to sleep, but because I sometimes do not follow my advice to her, like “get sleep.” She’ll finally be asleep and I’ll take the time to read, do nothing, but not go to sleep when I should. This is better when my daughter’s father is around and I am forced to be slightly more normal.

Children are different or, at least, mine is

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So I am going to give you some scenarios, tell me which would cause you to comment or cry out: hunter shoots mother, old king eats poisoned mushroom and dies, refined lady does exercises with elephant in his underwear, monkey swings in a tree, lady runs into an elephant in the street and buys him clothes, and dressed up elephant marries cousin. What, you think “monkey swings in a tree” is clearly the most interesting part of what I just said? Not the tragic killing of a mother in front of her child, not the bizarre woman knowing an elephant wants to wear clothes, not the suspiciously poisoned mushroom, not the exercises? If you agree that the (in this series of events) banal monkey in a tree is the most exciting thing about this story, you are in good company. My daughter (who usually is empathetic) could care less about the deaths in The Story of Babar: the little elephant (by Jean De Brunhoff), she doesn’t seem to find elephants wearing clothes odd, she just gets really excited whenever the monkeys make an appearance. They have a really minor role, as small as, say Elmo’s parents in his life. She told her father the other day (when he was trying to get her to nap) that monkeys were her best friends. Please let me know when I should be concerned.Most interesting thing about this picture? The monkey in the bush.

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?

Toys are real

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Speaking of The Velveteen Rabbit, there are several books that focus on the idea of toys (generally stuffed animals) as “real.” Like the Toy Story movies, in these works the stuffed animals have feelings and concerns. Most of these worries focus on their human owner not buying them, loving them enough, or giving them away. As a lot of little kids are, my daughter is imaginative and empathetic. She gets worried about portrayals of sad stuffed animals, dinosaurs, monsters, humans, trucks, etc. She worries when her stuffed animals are not given enough attention. She makes them take turns at school, lest they be left out. She got angry at her monkey the other day for “eating” (just to be clear: fake eating, it is a stuffed monkey) her food. Imagination and empathy are great, but . . . If she brings one monkey to bed, all of a sudden there are seven monkeys — because baby monkey cannot be without mommy monkey and mommy monkey needs daddy monkey and daddy monkey needs the other baby monkey, suddenly an extensive family has taken up residence, leaving little room for my daughter. Now you may be thinking, stop getting her monkeys or tell her to leave some of the monkeys out of the bed. We are trying (and we aren’t the only monkey givers in her life)! It can be hard when your daughter has read that the much-desired monkey is going to sob when left at the store (or alone on its shelf at home) and face a life of gloom. See Don Freeman’s Corduroy. In case you think I am reading too much into it, here is a picture book illustrator’s (Neva Austrew) analysis of poor poor Corduroy when the mother refuses to buy him: “His actions and inner dialogue throughout the story mimic what a little child might feel in a similar strange situation, with no friends or family to guide them. The feeling is fear.” The solution? Buying the bear. Photos of monkeys and sad stuffed animals to come!