Wednesday, November 14th, 2007
Books that Teach Toddlers Life Lessons
My daughter has a lot of great books, but very few of them contain clear lessons about, well, take your pick â€” morals, ethics, values or social conduct. The bulk of our books could be boiled down to pushing imagination, school-type education or humor.
This is important because toddlerhood is perhaps the most malleable period in a kid’s life for teaching values in an overt manner, such as with books. As they say, these are the formative years. From time to time when our daughter does something wrong or right we will even draw a parallel to an event in one of her books.
So, I’d like to share some of our lesson books and hear about books from your child’s library.
1. All the Engines that Wouldn’t by Watty Piper â€” Also known as The Little Engine That Could. This classic story follows the plight of a train full of toys that breaks down, leaving a mountain between the toys and their destination town where anxious boys and girls are waiting.
From my childhood, I remember this story being about the brave little engine that made it over the mountain pass, reciting the mantra, "I think I can; I think I can."
As a parent, this story is more about all of the engines who encountered the toys and chose not to help. Not only that, but they were rude in their refusals.
Honey, would you have helped those toys? Why? If you couldn’t help, what would you say to them?
2. The Doorbell Rang by Path Hutchins â€” This is such a simple story it doesn’t require explicit discussion.
Sam and Victoria are preparing to share a plate full of cookies that their mom baked. Given 12 cookies, they deduce they can each eat six, but then the doorbell rings and in walk two neighborhood kids.
"You can share the cookies," their mother says. Now they figure everyone gets three cookies… but then the doorbell rings. And so on.
By the end of the story there are 12 kids each planning to have one cookie when the doorbell rings. "Perhaps you’d better eat them before we open the door," the mother said. "We’ll wait," said Sam. And in walks Grandma with an enormous tray of cookies.
3. A Friend for Growl Bear (out of print) by Margo Austin â€” This is a story about a misunderstood baby bear.
He growls at everyone, and the woodland creatures won’t play with him because they don’t want to get bitten.
When an owl encounters the bear, the owl decides he is no threat because he has no teeth, and so the owl informs all the other animals.
Good news? No. This leads to a huge backlash, with the forest animals insulting, pushing and pelting the bear.
Later, the owl learns Growl Bear growls because he hasn’t learned to talk, and from then on the bear has lots of friends. In other words, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Honey, when Rabbit pushed Growl Bear in the water, was that a good thing to do? What could he have done instead?
4A. The Rainbow Fish by Marucs Pfister is the first in a series. It’s also the worst one. Our pompous main character is too beautiful to play with the other fish, but is bothered when he learns no one likes him. A wise octopus advises him, "Give away your shining scales. You won’t be as beautiful, but you will have friends."
At first, it sounded like a story about sharing. Then I realized this jerk fish needed an attitude adjustment, but instead he bought friends.
4B. Rainbow Fish to the Rescue is a little better. When a dull, ordinary fish wants to play with Rainbow and his friends, he gets excluded. As Rainbow starts to question being a jerk to the new fish, a shark swims by. Rainbow and his friends hide, then save the dull fish from the shark and later choose to play with the oddball. Umm, okay.
4C. Rainbow Fish and the Big Blue Whale finally nails proper social conduct. Rainbow and his friends are afraid of a whale lingering in the area, so they treat the whale poorly. Accordingly, the whale is mean in return. The fighting ends up scaring away the krillâ€”the food source for everyone involved. Rainbow then talks to the whale, realizes everyone misunderstood each other, and they swim off as friends looking for a new home where there will be plenty of krill to eat.
Honey, what should Rainbow have done when he saw the whale for the first time? What do you do when you see a new kid at the playground or at school?
5. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback â€” Based on a Yiddish song, this story follows Joseph’s inventive reuse of an overcoat.
As the overcoat wears over time, he turns it into a jacket, vest, scarf, necktie, handkerchief and finally a button. When the button is gone, he writes a book about it…. "which shows… you can always make something out of nothing."
Honey, can you think of something you reuse? How about the craft projects you do using toilet paper tubes? And aren’t you saving some of your old clothes for the new baby? Hey, and mom is resewing (repairing blown elastic on) your diapers so they can be used by the new baby.
6A. Winnie the Pooh – Lessons from the Hundred-Acre Wood (out of print, Advance Publishers, 2000) â€” I’m on record despising licensed characters, but I came across two great series of discontinued Pooh books and I relented. The first is 19 volumes with titles such as, "Make the Best of It," "Giving is the Best Gift," "Hooray for Teamwork," and "Fun is Where You Find It."
6B. Disney’s Out and About with Pooh – A Grow and Learn Library (out of print, Advance Publishers, 1996) â€” This 19 volume set teaches lessons a bit more indirectly, but includes a Parent’s Guide volume filled with ideas for discussing and using the stories after the reading is done.
7. Banned: Berenstain Bears â€” Virtually all of the books in this classic series are about teaching lessons, but after buying four of the books I saw a trend. The mother is wise while the father is portrayed as an inept and dumb. No thank you.
Agree? Disagree? Do any good books in your library come to mind?