Monday, December 3, 2012

A few random thoughts on various children's books

In Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are," when the forest starts to grow in Max's room, the moon appears to be a crescent.  At least, there is only a crescent of it that is bright.  At the end of the book, when he sails back into the night of his very own room, the moon is solidly full.  Am I making too much of a bit of artistic variation?  Maurice Sendak is too good of an artist for this to be accidental, I think.

"Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" just keeps getting better and better the more children I read it to.  All four of my very different children have loved it in very different ways.  Our first, fascinated by words and letters from the get-go, loved the letters and would spend as much time poring over the alphabets at the beginning and end as on the story itself.  And she could recite the story itself (and did--"reading" it to Grandma over the phone) before she was three.  Our second daughter loved any book with a strong rhythm.  "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" was tied with "Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb" for her favorite.  Our third daughter, for reasons which never did become clear to me only wanted to talk about the "coke-na-nuts."  Our fourth, our son, is proving himself all boy.  One of his first words was "Boom!" and he will chime with the "Boom!  Boom!" right on cue in the story when all the letters fall out of the tree.

Speaking of  "Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb," what's with all those monkeys?  My mom says that the book reads like someone's LSD trip out of the 60's.  I don't think I disagree.

The late Jack Kent had a wonderfully subversvive sense of what is real and what is not.  "Mr. Meebles" (1970) features the boy Donald's imaginary friend who comes to life when he claims the note that Donald writes about him.  I think that it's actually a story about story-telling, and closes with one of the most brilliantly surreal, post-modern pieces of dialogue that you're likely to find in a picture book:
  "How can you be here when I wasn't even thinking about you?" asked Donald.  "You're just an idea, and--"
  "And an idea doesn't exist unless somebody has it.  That's what you told me," said Mr. Meebles.  He reached into his hat, pulled something out of it, and said, "Well . . . I HAVE it.  You wrote it down on this piece of paper yesterday and went out without it."
  And so it was that Mr. Meebles no longer had to depend upon Donald.  Mr. Meebles was still only an idea.  But the idea was his own now.  Donald told him he could keep it.
And so our characters take on a life of their own.

 "Mr. Meebles" is out of print, but "There's No Such Thing As a Dragon" (1975) is readily available.  The theme here is distinctly less abstruse.  A dragon shows up in Billy's bedroom one morning, but Billy's mother tells him that dragons don't exist.  It has to run off with their house on his back before Billy's mother is willing to admit to the existence of evidence which challenges her preconceived conclusions.  I'm grateful to my mother-in-law for saving these from my husband's childhood stash.

The province of British Columbia gave "One Gray Mouse" out to every newborn born there in the year 2000, so we received it with our eldest daughter.  It's one of the best color and counting books I've seen, and there are a lot of both of those.

I'm enjoying Simcha Fisher's Advent book recommendation blog series.  I may never read "Goodnight Moon" the same way again though.  It had never occurred to me before to be bothered by the fact that there's a bowl of mush left out all night at room temperature--but I doubt now that I'll ever be able to forget it.

What's struck you as an adult, reading or re-reading children's picture books?


Cherry Odelberg said...

Do I have to answer the question; or can I just talk about Hand, hand, fingers thumb?

As a music teacher and a mother who has raised three working musicians, I LOVE Hand, Hand, Fingers Thumb. Never met a toddler to secondgrader who did not chime in, "Dum diddy dum diddy dum dum dum, " when I paused and looked at them. It is ideal for fostering a love of rhythm, rhyme and even a bit of sense of the ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely nothing wrong with cold oatmeal. Or warm oatmeal. Or oatmeal at any temperature. What amuses me about GNM is that it take one hour and ten minutes. On each colored page, the hands on the clocks advance ten minutes. The little bunny goes to bed at 7:00 and finally drifts off at 8:10, after talking for over an hour.