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.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Making manners fun

Dear Aunt Debbie,

A propos of our conversation on "lesson books" (here and here), a friend recently recommended a couple of books by Aliki, which I checked out of the library.

Manners and Feelings are an interesting hybrid of playful and didactic.  Each book is a series of unconnected episodes riffing on the theme of the title, and rendered in Aliki's wonderful cartoon drawings.

The drawings are of a racially diverse group of kids (somewhat more so in Manners than in Feelings), enacting the ideas on each page. A pair of birds provide commentary at the top and bottom margins of each page, which is both cute and serves as an invitation for the kid reading to comment on the action as well.  These are great books for parents and children to talk through.

In Feelings, many of the pages simply evoke or illustrate a feeling or feelings you might have in a certain situation:

In Manners, more of the episodes are cast as lessons, and tell a brief 

Flipping through the pages of both books before reading them aloud, I thought, Oh dear, these really are Lesson Books.  Happily, my fears that both the girls and I would find them too preachy were unfounded.  Aliki's cartoony drawings and sense of humor make even the didactic bits palatable, and both girls love the books.  Eleanor, at age 6, can read them herself. The day I brought them home from the library, she tried to sneak a flashlight into her room to keep reading at bedtime (always a good sign, in my opinion). Isabel, at 3 1/2, is captivated by the depictions of bad behavior, and requests repeated readings of specific pages. "How Anthony Almost Ruined Diana's Party" is her favorite:

So far, this hasn't resulted in her co-opting the most interesting new insulting phrases and using them on her sister, though I'm on the lookout.  I've found myself referencing episodes as well, so that it's not just me, but also Aliki encouraging them not to pick their noses or grab toys from each other.  (Thanks, Aliki!)  There's a richness to the varied format that holds up well on repeated readings, and keeps everyone engaged.

Love, Annie

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