A Few Thoughts on Books for Children

Sometimes I browse through the picture books at the library and come across books that make me wonder if the author and illustrator have ever actually known a child.  The illustrations are beautifully rendered, without a trace of silliness or whimsy.  The subject matter is so serious or theoretical that I can’t imagine a real child ever sitting still to benefit from whatever lesson or idea the book is intended to impart.  Have you seen these?  “Annie and the Great Fire of 1812” or “Wisdom from Granny’s Lap” or “A Child’s Walden“…that sort of thing.

I’ve written before about walking the fine line between giving children brain food that is good for them versus what they actually want/like.  I actually think of myself as a bit of a snob when it comes to the books I welcome into our home.  So I’m no stranger to turning up my nose at children’s “literature,” but I readily acknowledge that stupid children’s books are not any worse than books that are so self-righteous or lofty that they never come off of the bookshelf!


When I read out loud to Abby, I never read the words as they were actually written.  I am sure that the authors would find this exceedingly offensive, but I can’t seem to help myself.  Part of it is the writing teacher in me, compulsively wanting to correct too many short simple sentences in a row, to cut down on wordy details*, or to replace the word “said” with something more vivid.  I’m also the moralizing parent who hopes that Abby will be more likely to absorb my subliminal lessons while her guard is down.  Surely I’m not alone here, right?  

Original text: “Mother Lion told Johnny Lion to clean up his room.  So he did.”  

My improved version: Mother Lion told Johnny Lion to clean up his room.  Johnny Lion obeyed his mother immediately with a happy heart.”


Here’s what we’re reading on “repeat” these days: the Frances books by Russell Hoban; the Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer; the Little Bear books by Elise Holmelund Minarik; “Lucille” by Arnold Lobel; “Johnny Lion’s Rubber Boots” by Edith Thatcher Hurd; “The Adventures of Lowly Worm” by Richard Scarry; the Berenstain Bear books by Stan and Jan Berenstain (mostly the free ones from the CFA kids’ meals), “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” by Virginia Lee Burton; “Vera’s First Day of School” by Vera Rosenberry; “Doctor DeSoto” by William Steig.  

*I realize there may be some irony here…

2 responses to “A Few Thoughts on Books for Children

  1. I modify the words, too, but mostly because I notice their attention spans are getting short, and I really want to make it through the entire book in one sitting, instill that reading time IS important, even if it is sometimes rushed. Maybe that’s the JOURNALISM major in me… no embellishments, just the facts, ma’am. Keep it short, simple, to the point…

    Love the Chick-fil-a books ourselves, keep our stash in the car. They just opened one about 40 miles from us… that’s the closest one!

  2. I just mentioned to the husband the other day while reading aloud “I never read the words written on the page…” a little sad at this “fault” of mine. His response was a very sweet “I know, Honey!” I guess it is obvious.
    Part of it is the conversation part like you mentioned (Esp in Johnny Lion’s Rubber Boots- so n so said blah, so n so said really?, and then so in so said truly? and then so n so said….we get the point…). The other reason is that is how I read books to myself. I see several words in a sentence and I make up how it goes. Many times I have to go back thinking “that did not make sense,” but only when really paying attention. I think that many times, especially when reading books over and over, I eventually read it word for word, but when I do, I phase out and think about what happened that day or what I was going to do as soon as he shuts his eyes and I go downstairs. If I want to be fully engaged with the boys I have to mix up the words, otherwise, I bore myself to another engagement.
    The biggest problem arises when reading books that rhyme (which is the case about 70% of the time). When I rearrange the words, it is hard to get it to rhyme again, but when I do I am very proud of myself.

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