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, June 22, 2012

Oh, the graduations you'll attend!

Dear Aunt Debbie,

The school year is winding to its slow, hot end here in New York.  I turned my grades in today, and graduation is on Monday.  This afternoon, the girls and I went to get summer haircuts at our lovely local hair salon.  While waiting for our turn, Isabel picked a book out of the basket of kids' books the owner keeps waiting on the floor: the perennial graduation-gift favorite, Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!

About which I feel -- eh.  There's a lot of Dr. Seuss I love: Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, The Lorax, to name a few we've touched on.  But I have to admit, aside from the pleasurably wacky Seussian drawings, Oh the Places You'll Go! is a pretty boring book.

Which is funny, because even when Dr. Seuss is plotless and random, as in Hop on Pop or One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, he's always quirky and specific as well.

Probably my favorite page in One Fish Two Fish is a brief stand-alone scenario, accompanied by this illustration:

Look what we found
in the park
in the dark.

We will take him home.
We will call him Clark.
He will live at our house.
He will grow and grow.
Will our mother like this?
We don't know.

 Compare that to the banality of Oh, The Places You'll Go!:

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen,
don't worry.  Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll  start happening too.
I talk to my creative writing students a lot about avoiding general statements, understanding that often, it's the most specific details that pull a reader in and lead to an emotional response.  Too many generalizations, and your book starts to read like a long-form greeting card.  And, apparently, to sell like hotcakes.

So, any other suggestions for graduation-appropriate kids' books?

Love, Annie

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