Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
Four Children’s Books for Parents
Sometimes there are books you read your kids because you love them, not because they love them. Or at least, their message is too deep to easily convey to a young mind. Here are a few I’ve run across in my book hoarding.
Beryl’s Box by Lisa Taylor — Friendly Beryl and spoiled brat Penelope are forced into a playdate by their mothers. The brat leads a bored life surrounded by lots of toys. When Beryl visits for the playdate, she insists on bringing her favorite cardboard box.
After knocking down their mutual social barrier, Beryl and the brat narrowly escape in their box boat as a flood hits the house. They paddle for Moon Fruit Island, escaping a whirlpool and then a huge googly monster on the island. Later, the box if flattened into a carpet and they fly through space until the moms say it’s time for Beryl to go home.
On the last page, the spoiled brat delightedly opens a birthday present, finding a new computer inside:
“WOW!” she cried, snatching the superest new computer from inside its box. “It’s just what I’ve always wanted!” And throwing the superest new computer on the floor, she hugged the box tightly to her chest.”
The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey — You might as well title this book The Milkman. Paperboys have disappeared in many parts of the country. I don’t know who delivers my paper. It’s thrown from a car window by an adult driving past at a steady pace. The bill is mailed to me from the publisher. I can’t call the carrier to complain that he lands the paper in my gutter, nor tip him for delivering to my doorstep. Contact with the human side of a product I use every day has been extinguished.
There was a special charm in discovering Dav Pilkey’s sumptuous acrylic paintings and simple — rings true — narrative of a boy going about his paper route with his pet dog. Perhaps the charm only hits adults who have delivered newspapers in their youth… waking in the dark, packing the papers and heading out while your parents still sleep, and spending an hour or two walking or riding dark neighborhood streets and arriving back home as the dawn breaks.
“Soon they are back home. It is still dark inside, but the sounds of morning are all around. His father and mother are awake and talking softly in bed, and his sister is downstairs watching Saturday morning cartoons.” (and then he crawls into bed, his dog at the foot of the bed, and they fall asleep)
It’s a quiet story published in 1996… how quickly the world changes.
Incidentally, Dav Pilkey is also the author of Dog Breath.
In the Middle of the Night — This is a snapshot of things that happen in a city while you’re sleeping. The words have a soft poetry to them and the drawings a feeling of genuineness, as if based on photographs.
There’s a garbage truck going about its route, an office custodian emptying wastebaskets, an astronomer peering at the sky, bread bakers and their delivery trucks, a postal train with people sorting parcels inside, and a mother comforting her baby. And these two moments tucked in the middle of the story:
“Across the town at the hospital
where the nurses watch in the dim-lit wards
someone very old shuts their eyes
breathes their very last breath
on their very last night.
Yet not far away on another floor
after months of waiting
a new baby’s born
and the mother and the father
hold the baby and smile
and the baby looks up
and the world’s just begun.
The Money Tree by Sarah Stewart — One February, solitary Miss McGillicuddy notices a new tree growing in her country yard. Each page brings a new month and more growth of the tree. It’s big and strange looking, and sprouts a thick foliage of dollar bills.
Strangers flock to her property to harvest the money, more each month. She observes the strangers with a certain puzzled curiosity. While they grab money, she spends time with her dogs and farm animals, partaking in the simple pleasures of life.
By November, the tree is fantastically tall and barren of leaves, but a few stragglers still scratch in the snow hoping for an occasional dollar. Then, in December, Miss McGillicuddy has some neighborhood boys cut down the tree for her to use as fuel for the winter, even if the green wood might smoke a little.
“Miss McGillicuddy gave each boy a loaf of homemade bread, a jar of strawberry jam, and a bouquet of dried flowers. Then she said goodbye, walked toward the warmth of the fire, and smiled to herself.”
Of all of these stories, The Money Tree is the toughest to engage my daughter with as I take on a sort of lecture tone in explaining its meaning. Beryl’s Box is the easiest, providing an interesting fantastical journey if not a deeper message about using your imagination to entertain yourself instead of relying on manufactured toys.
See previously: Loving and Creepy Children’s Books that are Really for Parents