We all have a special relationship to children’s books. We read them as kids and many of us read to our children.
While I was still childless I rarely delved into the subject. As a literary theorists I felt that the topic was a bit overwhelming. It’s kind of like a doctor choosing a specialty and studying for four more years for it. if you think grown up literature is complex and hard to wrap your brain around you should try analyzing a children books.
As a kid I had a favorite book. It was about a cat called Tinker (I read it in Icelandic so he was called Dúrilúri) and he was curious and went out on a little adventure with his puppy friend.
It was a simple book but I loved it and my father read it to me so often that I knew it by heart before I could read. I impressed some people with that and I still know the first two pages.
I don’t know if I brought anything with me from that book but the love of books. And I do love book with all my heart and soul. The funny thing is I know I heard other stories as a kid, other books were read to me but I can’t remember much of them.
I do remember the awe I had for the image of a thunderstorm at the end of the story about Tinker. I had never seen anything so enticing and fascinating as that image.
And now I’m reading books for my little girl who is three years old. She likes her bedtime stories and we go to the library regularly to get new things to read.
We like books that are serials. They are familiar. Ingrid by Katerina Janouch and illustrated by Mervi Lindman is popular. She’s a spry little girl who has a normal life of a little kid. And we love her, well except for the book with the bandaid. Ingrid loves her bandaid, just like my little A and because of Ingrid it’s impossible to keep bandaid in the house. Or well… I choose to blame Ingrid!
But apart from that it’s a good book. Ingrid takes a bath, she takes vacations and is generally good in a show-and-tell kind of way.
Then there is The Little Ghost Laban (by I and L Sandberg). He’s a ghost who is afraid of the dark. He tells of monsters and then convinces you (at least the parent I’m not quite sure the kids buy it) that they don’t exist in reality.
A likes the books about Castor. He’s a beaver who does practical things like paint a cupboard or sew an apron. Practical and tells you exactly what you need to do the task at hand and how you do it.
She also likes the scary ones, but not always.
There is one marvelous one about a monster that starts off as a tiny little thing but grows as he starts to eat up all the darkness in the world. There’s a page in it that I love where he is sitting on a different planet all alone as the little boy starts to cry. And the monster goes back and rocks the boy to sleep and the darkness goes out of him and he’s not empty anymore but sleeps.
It’s a beautiful book. And more complex than anything I’ve ever read before I believe. In all it’s simplicity it tells a story that you could in fact spend thousands of pages telling.
Some books seem pointless like the book about the girl and the weather. It doesn’t exactly have a logical plot but tells about a different kind of weather in a William S Burroughs kind of way if you ask me (and A loves it).
And then there are the fairy tale classics.
I remember being a bit confused by them as a kid. But I wasn’t nearly as confused about them as I am today.
Have you tried telling the story about Little Red Riding Hood to you kid? Or Cinderella? Or Hans and Greta? Snow White?
They are from a different time and we have a different take on things now than they did back then. The brutality seems endless and my girl is too young to understand it. (When the dandelions wither on the kitchen table she asks me “are they asleep?” and I wouldn’t put an end to that innocence for anything in the world!).
And telling the stories differently seems to take the essence out of them because brutality is the main theme of most of them. Although good usually prevails I’d rather not teach this brutality to my kid. She’ll learn of it soon enough.
So in modern stories it’s been replaced, mostly, with obscure monsters that learn the error of their ways. Or get soothed by kindness.
I won’t attempt to analyze. I just marvel in the wonderful artistry and storytelling abilities of writers that write for children. Knowing the right words to catch a small child’s attention is no small thing.
And there are such gem’s in these stories. Big stories that I can tell myself differently before I go to bed a few hours after I’ve read the stories to her. Some people think it’s easy telling stories to kids – and they are generous listeners – but they recognize quality in a way that we grown ups sometimes miss.
An incredible exercise in learning how to do that is asking your child to retell the story for you. Often you won’t recognize it.
And that’s the beauty of these books – the two of you share it but you hear different stories.