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.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Imaginative play

Dear Aunt Debbie,

What a lovely time we had with you in Maine!  As my mom recently emailed, you have a way of making hosting large groups of family feel effortless.  And the food is so, so good.  I'm still dreaming of blueberry pie.

One of the joys of the week was, of course, having so many relatives and friends reading to Eleanor and Isabel.  It seemed like there were always several books open, and more scattered around the floor, and we've come home with a number of new goodies which I'm sure I'll be writing about in the weeks to come.

The Queen of France, which you wrote about recently, is a total hit.  Reading aloud the story of Rose, who becomes the Queen of France several times throughout the day, and her parents, who gamely play along, was so much fun.  Great to find a pink-y princess-y book it's a pleasure to reread.  And then, of course, you get to do a bad French accent, which you know I love.

At home, we've been reading a lot of Christine Maclean's Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms, which has recently become one of Isabel's favorites.  I've mentioned before that I have mixed feelings about this book, because of the character of the mother, but it's been such a hit in our house that I think it deserves more attention.

The basic plot: a boy and his non-speaking toddler sister play a wide variety of imaginative games, turning household implements, stuffed animals, cardboard boxes, and couch cushions into all kinds of settings.  The boy is a firefighter, an EMT, a train conductor, an astronaut, etc.  In each scene, his little sister is given a smaller role: she's the assistant, or the police dog, or the train passenger.  And in each scene, mom comes in and tries to get the boy to give her a hug.  He pushes her off, and she counters with "Even firefighters (EMTs, helicopter pilots, construction workers) hug their moms."

What I love about the book: The kids are having great imaginative play.  The boy uses a pot lid as a steering wheel, makes construction vehicle gears out of golf clubs and wooden spoons, and repurposes the same four stuffed animals in every scene.  (One of Isabel's great pleasures is identifying these animals on every page: "There's the dog!  There's the pig!  There's the dinosaur!  There's the bear!")  The boy incorporates his little sister into every game; it's clear they play well together.  There's a sense of happy creative mess in the pictures -- no one minds that the "garbage truck driver" dumps a whole pile of toys down the slide and into a box.

But mom is such a wuss.  In a couple of scenes, she starts to play along: she's a train passenger, she's under the couch cushions acting like Mission Control while the boy goes to Mars.  But every single time, she brings it back to the hug.  She comes across as depressingly desperate for physical contact.  Whereas Rose's parents in The Queen of France engage in her imaginative world while they're doing other things (making dinner, mowing the lawn), the Firefighters mom seems to have no purpose in her day other than to beg her kid for a hug.  It makes you hope Dad is coming home soon.

Love, Annie

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