Every parent has the book that the kids love, and that they hate. The one in our house was “No Jumping on the Bed” by Tedd Arnold. In it, a child jumps on his bed and falls through the floor of his room, and then down through the subsequent floors until he ends up in the basement of his apartment building.
As he falls, people from the lower floors fall with him and the author repeats who is falling. Over and over again. And then again. If repetition could give a reader a brain tumor, the Centers for Disease Control would ban that book.
Son, when he was a toddler, loved that book. I hated it. I fought sleep as I read it, and sometimes failed and dropped off mid-sentence. On the days that I read it four times in an afternoon, I’d walk around for the rest of the day in a sort of half-coma that no amount of coffee could overcome.
We still have “No Jumping on the Bed” but I should have disappeared that sucker during nap time years ago.
But there are perhaps a dozen books that are precious to me, some for the memories of happy kids listening intently. Some helped my kids understand our imperfect family. Some are flat out hilarious.
One favorite is “Hug” by Jez Alborough. It’s the story of baby monkey who is looking for his mother, walking around the jungle saying hopefully “Hug” and holding his arms aloft. But he is disappointed because he sees other animal moms and dads hugging their babies. (Even reptiles, which is probably why my kids will fail science.)
The jungle moms, instead of feeding the hapless baby monkey to their babies, help him find his mom. Which he does and they all hug. Nature is not cruel in toddler books.
But, once when I was reading that book, Son raised both toddler arms and said, “HUG” his sweet brown eyes locked hopefully into mine. I’m taking that memory, and that book, to the nursing home with me.
Two other important books for us are “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Pressure” by Stan & Jan Berenstain and “Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild” by Mem Fox. In both books, the mother comes under increasing pressure, in one because of a too-busy schedule and in the other because of a too-naughty child, and blows up. The bear mom cries but Harriet’s mom yells. Quite a lot actually. The families, of course, then right themselves.
We found Harriet at Politics and Prose, may it live forever. And the first time I read it Son burst into tears, realizing perhaps that yelling didn’t mean not-love.
Although they’re picture books, I keep them around as a gauge of my children’s mindset. If Harriet comes out, I can tell they’re feeling the need for reassurance. Not long ago, after a trying afternoon of bedroom cleaning, I saw Harriet on Son’s pillow and knew it was time for some reassurance.
Now to the funny books -- “What! Cried Granny” by Kate Lum is great on so many levels. There’s the hilarious story about a kid who watches TV and drinks espresso all night. There’s the completely frazzled but unbelievably accomplished grandmother, and the brilliant, blocky illustrations. A joy.
And Nancy Shaw’s “Sheep Out to Eat,” who are humiliated by snooty cat waiters in funny, sharp rhymes that would make any writer jealous. Last is Barry Smith’s “A Child’s Guide to Bad Behavior,” where a child is naughty on an alliterative schedule: “4 p.m. Naughty noisy nuisance. 6:05 Silly suppertime squabbles” with illustrations showing increasingly exhausted parents until the child sleeps, and becomes an angel.
There’s been other important books. “Black Beauty,” by Anna Sewell, where Son learned about animal abuse. Both kids have read the “Wimpy Kid” series over and over again. And both are upstairs now, reading Andy Griffiths’ sophisticated and elegant series about butts that refuse to do what their owners want them to. One butt keeps running away.
And hopefully, they’ll soon read my favorite: “Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh. Or I’ll read it to them.
So little time, so many books.