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.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How do dinosaurs compare to princesses?

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It's heartening to know that there's more complexity to princess books than Disney fare; I'm looking forward to checking out your latest recommendations.  (Particularly the King Arthur stuff; we play the music from Camelot a lot in our house.  As with so many other musicals, this leads to interesting conversations about Major Life Issues, such as adultery.)

In our growing conversation about princess books, however, I'm afraid we're leaving out the other major toddler and little kid subjects which seem to engulf boys in the same way Princess engulfs girls: dinosaurs and trains.  Before starting this blog, you and I corresponded at length about both of these subjects, and I'd love to bring that conversation here.

Your mention of good parenting made me think about my decidedly mixed feelings for the best-selling How Do Dinosaurs series, by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.  The one we own is How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?, but there are endless variations: How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?  How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?  How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?  How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Dogs?  (I worry a bit about that last one.)  The conceit of the books is that children are like dinosaurs, galumphing around and misbehaving, but parents love them anyway.  The children are depicted as full-sized dinosaurs, and the parents as normal-sized, racially diverse humans trying to wrangle creatures ten times their size.

It's the illustrations that make the books.  I knew I liked Mark Teague's work from the Poppleton books, but he outdoes himself here with double-page spreads of parents and dinosaurs in bright acrylic paints.  He paints a wide variety of dinosaurs, so much so that I looked some of the names up tonight to see if they were real: Tapejara, Nothosaurus, Kentrosaurus, Neovenator.  They all were.

It's the text that bothers me.  Jane Yolen writes the books in perfectly decent rhyming couplets, and stresses that bad behavior doesn't stop a parent from loving a child, which is a moral I agree with.  But in these books (or at least the one I'm looking at right now), there are no consequences for bad behavior at all:

Out in the sandbox
you threw lots of sand.

You ran from the slide,
after slapping
my hand.

But you suddenly turned
with a smile I adore.
Oh, I'll always 
love you, 
my dinosaur.

Well, yes and no.  You do those things, my little dinosaur, and that smile needs an apology to go with it.  The illustrations are so full of humor and love, and of course the sentiment makes sense when you're dealing with toddlers, but I wish the text didn't seem to encourage bad behavior.

What are some of the other good options out there?

Love, Annie

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