October 11, 2011

Books for Tots

How much do we love our public library? "This much!" says Colin.

Every Tuesday Colin, Archer and I walk to our public library, returning a few books and checking out a few more. Or more than a few, as evidenced by the number of books and videos we returned this morning, in anticipation of our trip to Little Rock.

That boy of mine is on a real reading kick these days. I mean, he's always loved books and being read to, but these days he begs us to read him book after book after book, sometimes a dozen in a row. Why? I think it's because I finally found the right kinds of books that capture a toddler's imagination.

At two and a half, Colin is too young for many of the longer picture-story books and too old for most "toddler" books. In fact, the other day I tried to read him Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, which I had just bought for Archer, and one page in he turned to me and said, "Mama, I can't read this book. This is a baby book."

But so many of the books in the two- to five-year-old range don't appeal to two-to-five year olds at all. You know the ones I'm talking about. All those touchy feel-y books about love and motherhood and apple pie. (That said, he loves Apple Pie by Kate Greenaway.) At two and a half, he's not able to verbalize most of his emotions, let alone care about anyone else's. Besides, some of them just make me want to wretch and are on my own personal banned books list.

Then there are the shelves and shelves of gimmicky books that publishers bring out just in time for Christmas. You know the ones: some story about a rooster who lost his voice and discovered a talent for playing banjo as told by Steve Martin and illustrated by some artist from the New Yorker. Now, I think a book about a banjo-playing rooster would be hilarious, but my two and a half year old could care less. "Too much angst, not enough action," Colin would say to me ... if he could verbalize such criticism.

So what does he like? Fairy tales. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. These are the stories Western culture has been passing down for hundreds of years, and consequently only the good ones have survived. Also, by the millionth retelling they have been edited and polished to perfection. Most importantly--to Colin at least--they are dark and disturbing and full of action. Parents who abandon their children in the woods. Wolves who eat little pigs and grandmothers and little girls. Dragons and dwarves and witches doing all sorts of magical things. There are the good guys and the bad guys and neither of them of talks about their feelings.

These stories have so inspired him that they have infected all of his play. We don't just go to the playground any more, we play "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" on the bouncy bridge. And no walk in the woods is complete without a hunt for wolves (although I might have had a little something to do with that.)

I know that one day, oh, probably when he's three, he'll want to read the stories about "feelings." And that will be a good thing. But right now, we are very content with "Once upon a time ..."

Here's what we're reading right now. What are your favourite fairy tales and other books for the in-between toddler set?

The Three Billy Goats Gruff. (We own three version, but Colin's favourite is an old "Lady Bird Edition" that Kevin had as a child.)
Little Red Cap, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger
Puss in Boots, illustrated by Fred Marcellino
Jack and the Beanstalk, illustrated by Robert MacKenzie
The House that Jack Built, by Diana Mayo
Anything by Paul Galdone: Rumplestiltskin, Henny Penny, The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, The Three Bears, etc.
Although not "fairy tales," these books about "little people" by Elsa Beskow are among our current favs: Children of the Forest; Woody, Hazel, and Little Pip; The Sun Egg.
Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella as retold by Cynthia Rylant. Although Rylant's versions talk a lot about "feelings," they are also the most insightful retellings of these stories I have ever encountered. I will never think about them in the same way again. And Colin thinks they're pretty good, too.

P.S. I included the illustrators because the pictures make such a difference in the retelling of these stories. Colin and I prefer the more painterly, realistic version to the more wry and cartoonish. After all, toddler don't get irony yet.


Rachel said...

I adore the photo! And I love this post. I'll bookmark it for when our kid gets to be that age (actually, I am currently making a book list for our kid if my parents' friends back in Texas want to know what to get us, so I'll add some of these to that). You rock, Sarah! Have a fun, safe trip!!

Annapolis Ligons said...

I love this photo and we also are big fans of the public library. I often forget to renew online and owe fines, but I figure it's a small price for the service. BTW Julien is 6 and still likes the fairy tales (we have an "anthology").