On Cautionary Tales and Circular Plots


     Unfortunately I am sucker for packaging, and was instantly drawn to this minuscule collection of Maurice Sendak’s work called Nutshell Library (lesser-known, in my case). There are four perfectly suitable small books in this collection: One Was Johnny – a clever counting book, Chicken Soup With Rice – a book about the seasons, Alligators All Around – an alphabet book, and finally: Pierre: a cautionary tale. They are each short and to the point, with very little text on each small page. Even Pierre, the longest of the four, does not lose my preschooler’s attention. Much like Fables -the ultimate of cautionary tales, Pierre tells the story of a little boy who answers: “I don’t care,” to every question, until he ends up inside a lion’s stomach – learning, by the end to CARE! As I have just begun to attempt to warn my daughter of certain unfortunate outcomes if she behaves a particular way, I enjoyed reading this one with her, and gauging her reaction. Not surprisingly, at three-and-a-half, she is not yet wise enough to truly understand what Sendak is relaying in his tale, but at some point it will sink in, right?
    Along these lines, we were also recently given Herve Tullet’s book: Press Here. Have you seen this one? It is among a collection of interactive books by Tullet, in which children are encouraged to pay attention and follow directions. Tullet, who also illustrates for The New Yorker, has perfected the friendly, authoritative voice that children will certainly trust and follow. I overheard my daughter “reading” this one to her babysitter with a tone that seemed to mimic my own. So in this book, the first page begins with a yellow dot that the child is asked to “press,” before turning the page. One dot turns into two, then three, and so before the dots begin to change colors, size, and placement on the page – all based on little readers following the writer’s cues: they are asked to shake the book, to clap quietly, then loudly, and so on…Again, I can’t stress how much my daughter has responded to this book. Yes, in a way, one could argue this book is absent of a plot. But I would argue, in fact, it is a circular plot, rather than a linear one. After multiplying, changing, mixing up, and resorting the dots, in the end, we are back where we started – with one yellow dot. Later on in life, when these little ones encounter Of Mice and Men or Their Eyes Were Watching God in school, perhaps they’ll remember the first circular plot they encountered in Tullet’s Press Here

What we’re reading now: With my one-year-old, we’re enjoying Ten Tiny Tickles

Why: He loves to be tickled:)

What I’m looking for: Now that we’re in March, what are your favorite books for children by female authors?

Stories Without Words

     I haven’t seen the movie, “The Artist” yet, but I am dying to. The success of this modern silent film has me thinking (again) of stories without words. In the past I’ve written about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, one of my favorites, and in the past few months I’ve stumbled upon a few new variations of this theme. It should come to as no surprise that I love making up stories as much as reading them, and I have realized lately that there are many tools out there to help us tell stories. For Christmas, my mother gave my daughter a game called “Tell Me A Story” (Animal Village – there are a few different versions of this). It is a deck of pictures with recurring characters and images. You get the idea, right? She selects about five cards and tells me a story based on the images that she pulls. The recurring characters encourage children (and adults) to stay focused, but there is plenty of room for imagination. While some cards feature the animals doing something – singing, celebrating a birthday, eating – there are also ones that include more pensive moments: a single balloon, a lonely porcupine. So the game provides a Conflict, and I’ve found that kids usually find it. If you read to your children often, you’ll be amazed by how intuitive the classic plot becomes. They seem to understand at a very young age that a story is not a story without a problem to be solved or overcome. “The King died and the Queen died” -and all that.
     For the baby, I recently discovered the “Indestructible” series (another genius idea from Workman Publishing). They are described as “chew proof, rip proof, nontoxic, and 100% washable” – specifically designed for babies. So it’s a wordless book with thin waxy pages that the little ones can’t destroy. The one we have is called Jungle Rumble! and is filled with beautifully illustrated jungle animals. For now, we’re keeping our stories simple – naming the animals and perhaps describing their colors. To be honest, the baby is still mostly focusing on the chewing, but at least this one is nontoxic. My daughter can jump in too, and “read” this one to her baby brother – always a plus for me.
     For older children or precocious preschoolers I’d highly recommend Flotsam – another wordless picture book about a little boy at the beach who finds an old fashioned underwater camera washed up ashore. What follows are the unique images captured over time, each a story in itself for the reader to conjure up. Any child who loves the beach and all of its treasures will most likely connect with this book.  As parents “reading” this one with our children, we will be pushed beyond our creative comfort zone, and back to before our own rationale thinking took over. Anything is possible in this book and Wiesner reminds us what it feels like to linger in a land of make-believe.

What we’re reading now: To the baby: Ten Tiny Tickles

Why: At almost eleven-months, he gets the idea of being tickled…

What I’m looking for: What are your favorite books without words?