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, June 26, 2014

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Spot

Dear Annie,

Oooh, family epidemics: the pits.  I'm so sorry you guys have been so miserable.  It reminds me of a wonderful scene in Jane Smiley's novella The Age of Grief.  If all our fiction shelves weren't wrapped in plastic while the kitchen is being redone, I'd quote from it at length.  The flu hits the entire family sequentially in that book, striking the parents in overlapping fashion.  Smiley does misery very well.

Two news events since last we posted seem worth noting today.  The American Academy of Pediatrics is now officially recommending that parents read aloud to their children starting in infancy.  They cite both language development and strengthening of parent-child relationships.  Hey, we knew that -- but it's still good to hear it from the family doctors of this world.  Just yesterday, a regular customer who's about to become a grandfather asked me about when to start reading to babies, and what to read.

This of course is one of our big themes -- see Books for Babies in list at right -- with lots of pointers in our posts. 

I also wanted to note the passing of Eric Hill, creator of the Spot books.  As you know, they've never been high on my list, and I have a particular dislike of Spot's First Christmas, which I've been forced to read every Christmas eve for the past 20 years.  But I must admit I found his obit in The Washington Post fascinating.

Hill is credited with creating the lift-the-flap book concept back in 1980 with his first book, the iconic
Where's Spot?
  I never knew.  I also discovered a bit of the Spot origin story which my father, your grandpa, would have appreciated.  Eric Hill, who was 15 years younger than grandpa, had this to say about Spot's markings:
As a child, during the war, I drew Spitfires and Messerschmitts.  With Spot, I found that I had designed a fuselage! His spot is on his side, the roundel marking of an English fighter plane, and the color bar of his tail is the color stripes of a plane’s rudder.

Take a look: 

The Spitfire's in there for Grandpa, who loved airplanes. I can imagine him pointing out to a grandchild, look, that doggie looks just like a Spitfire.  

I've always felt that Spot was too bland, and (especially in the Christmas book) annoying (always demanding his presents).  Hill phrased the blandness differently:
There is no violence in the books. No pussycats get chased. ... He is a happy dog, a little naughty at times, but predictable.  Children like this.
Cozily Predictable walks a fine line, easily crossing over into the Land of Boring.  But my opinion of Eric Hill has gone way up after viewing a video of him reading Where's Spot out loud to a stuffed toy Spot.  It appears to have been done four years ago, when Hill was 82.  The American Academy of Pediatrics should post it: this man knows how to make a bland book a lot of fun.  He adlibs all the way through, and even does voices -- although not as good as yours and Jeff's.

So thanks to Eric Hill for never being bored with a book he's read thousands of times.  Rest in peace.



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