In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Books for grumpy, tired toddlers

Dear Aunt Debbie,

We got Pirate Girl from the library a while ago, and Eleanor adored it. Maybe it's time to buy a copy and get it into the regular rotation. I'm so sorry to hear Helga's Dowry is out of print! What is wrong with publishers?

I love the Williams column. My favorite exploration of the Disney princess phenomenon is a New York Times article from a few years ago by Peggy Orenstein called "What's Wrong with Cinderella?" I teach it in my Women's Voices class as we talk about gender expectations and how much of what little kids read and play with is nature, how much nurture. When should we as parents be looking for ever more princess (or train, or dinosaur) books, and when should we be trying to expand our kids' horizons?

We're going to Eleanor's good friend Ian's 3rd birthday party tomorrow, and tonight I'll be wrapping up three books. We went with one of your train recommendations, Choo Choo, by Virginia Lee Burton, as Ian is very into trains.

Choo Choo

The black and white charcoal illustrations are evocative; I must remember the style from another Burton book I read as a kid, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. It seems like a fun one to read aloud; I'll let you know how it goes over.

The other two are books you gave Eleanor over the past couple of years, both of which have spawned catchphrases in our daily life.

Grumpy Bird

Grumpy Bird, by Jeremy Tankard, has got to be one of my all-time favorites. Bird wakes up grumpy, too grumpy to eat, play, or fly, and so goes walking through the woods. He meets a series of annoyingly happy animal friends, all of whom end up following him ("Walking? I love walking!"). When he realizes that they'll do whatever he does (jump, stand on one leg), he snaps out of his mood and they all fly back to his place for a snack. What I love most about this book is the way it quietly makes fun of the sappy happy characters in so many lesser children's books. Every animal he passes asks him what he's doing, until finally Bird explodes: "WHY DOES EVERYONE WANT TO KNOW WHAT I'M DOING?" Cracks me up every time. This is also a great book to read with different accents for each of the characters. We usually read Fox's voice in a British accent, and Beaver's in a slow, kind of dumb one. Eleanor loves the book, and it gives us a handy shorthand for days when she's in a bad mood -- Oh, are you a Grumpy Bird today?

Will You Carry Me?

The last is Will You Carry Me?, by Heleen van Rossum, illustrated by Peter van Harmelen. The title is, of course, a familiar refrain to any parent of a toddler, and the book is completely charming. Thomas and Mommy are headed home from the playground, and Thomas is too tired to walk. Mommy (who has an awesome Dutch sense of style) comes up with several other things they can do: "Well, if you're too tired to walk or jump, maybe we should try...Swimming!" Mommy's good-natured channeling of Thomas's whining has popped into my head on more than one occasion when we're out and Eleanor is fussing in the same way. The pictures here are filled with strange little creatures who also walk, run, jump, swim, etc. -- it bears close reading.

Love, Annie


  1. Parenthood has give me a new perspective on nature v nurture. I now think its at least 90% nature.

  2. I am procrastinating- a momentary lapse of my diligent self-am found my way to your blog, dear ones. Thought I'd put a plug in for a discussion of "Noisy Nora," my all-time favorite children's book. From what I recall, it too might be suitable for tempestuous toddlers...

  3. Oh, I adore Noisy Nora! I will plan a post accordingly.