As we mark 100 posts here at Sojourner's Song, I thought it would be appropriate and enjoyable to celebrate the simpler side of reading. Over many years of reading to children, I've developed definite tastes in and convictions about literature targeted for the younger years.
Whatever else education means, it means aiming children in a consistent direction and avoiding corny plots and bad poetry. We must continuously emphasize the importance of good story-telling principles and the delightful, flowing creativity made possible by abiding by these principles; many of which are objectively demarcated; others, more subjective and abstract. Either way, they are there.
At the top of my list is Amos & Boris, a long-time favorite about an unlikely friendship between a whale and a mouse. The storyline is simple but engaging, and reinforces positive concepts such as friendship, generosity, and adventure. One of the best parts is when Amos is loading his little boat, the Rodent, for its maiden voyage:
"When the boat was finished, he loaded it with cheese, biscuits, acorns, honey, wheat germ, two barrels of fresh water, a compass, a sextant, a telescope, a saw, a hammer and nails and some wood in case repairs should be necessary, a needle and thread for the mending of torn sails, and various other necessities such as bandages and iodine, a yo-yo and playing cards."
I love inventories! (As Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy: "Crusoe is a man on a small rock with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing in the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck. The greatest of poems is an inventory. Every kitchen tool becomes ideal because Crusoe might have dropped it in the sea.")
The book abounds with delightfully subtle humor, and the author is not afraid to use the word he wants, even if it is "phosphorescent." Five stars.
Another Telian-family classic is Don Wood's The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and THE BIG HUNGRY BEAR. The story goes that I read this to my Aunt at two years old, and the feat has since been matched by several others; it seems the vivid graphics and engrossing plot cement the text firmly in young memories.
Strawberries and mice seem to be an unbeatable combination; it's impossible to read the book without whispering, impersonating bear snorts, and generally entering into the drama of the story. And kids love it.
Most of the 76 reviews on Amazon use more words than the book does. I think I just made it.
Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney, is another pushover; again, largely because of my fondness for inventories. It is an innocent, industrious book, full of the quiet charm of colonial New England. You can almost taste the wintergreen peppermint candies.
Of course, no toddler's book basket is complete without P. D. Eastman's rollicking and ridiculous Go, Dog, Go! or Nancy Shaw's equally rollicking and ridiculous Sheep in a Jeep, the latter being particularly notable for Margot Apple's wonderful illustrations.
All of these books have educational value, touching on everything from colors (Go, Dog, Go!) to consequences (Sheep in a Jeep). Maybe, with the right books and the right focus, we can nurture, educate, and entertain all at the same time.
Images courtesy of forbesbookclub.com, ccfpl.org, and images.barnesandnoble.com