Classics for Young Kids

Just a few weeks before my second child, a daughter, was born, I stopped at a bookstore with my son and we bought her a book. It was Pride and Prejudice: A Babylit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver. In just 10 pages, we visited the story of Pride and Prejudice by learning about some of the important countable nouns in it: FIVE sister, TEN thousand pounds. The pictures are modern, and for this particular “primer” the nouns highlighted are lots of fun. Will a baby “get” the plot of the classic novel? No, but it sure is fun for a mama who loves the book!

New to the classics for babies scene is the Cozy Classics series by Jack and Holman Wang (Simply Read Books, 2012). In a similar way, these books share the plot with the youngest people, but these books do with just one word on each page. It’s amazing how they manage to share so much of the story in one word per page! The accompanying pictures are photographs of needle-point felt dolls and scenes. I am not able to sew in anyway so this is very impressive to me too. I read the Pride and Prejudice and the Moby Dick Cosy Classics as digital review copies from the publisher. Does a child need to know “peg leg”? No, but the format is a fun one for the parent who loves the classics!

And then there is a more complete picture book version. I discovered Moby Dick: Chasing the Great White Whale by Eric A. Kimmel and Andrew Glass (Feiwel and Friends, 2012) as a part of the Cybils 2012 fiction picture book judging process. It is a poetic sea shanty retelling of the story of Moby Dick. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I love reading the classics, so I was delighted to see a picture book about a favorite book of mine, although I must admit I was surprised to see Moby Dick, of all classic books, retold in picture book format. The book is so much fun for someone who enjoys Moby Dick. It begins with “Call me Ishmael” and it really does capture the feeling of the book in some respects: the desire to go whaling, the night in the inn with a man with a tattooed head, meeting Captain Ahab, the anticipation of the chase. The illustrations are gorgeous paintings, and one can see the brush strokes in the marvelously rich pages. I really enjoyed seeing the story come to life in the pictures. And yet, there is something odd as a whole about this as a picture book. One of the things I love about Moby Dick is the rich language; so much of my enjoyment of the book depends on the eloquent ponderings of the narrator.

As a whole, the story of Moby Dick is rather gruesome: sailors hunting down a large animal and killing it in a brutal and disgusting way. In the picture book, the language is reduced to a sea shanty rhyme, and the illustrations do the talking. It’s a nice introduction to Moby Dick’s plot but do young children really need the plot? I also took exception to the “moral” added to the end of the picture book. Herman Melville’s creation is certainly not something that ends with a trite moral: it’s far more complicated than the plot suggests, and his purposes in writing it (the “moral” if you will) is something to explore in doctoral length dissertations, not picture books. I don’t believe it was necessary to sum up the book in such a trite way: I believe it detracts from the whole.

In the end, then, I’m rather conflicted about this picture book: I love it since I love the original, but I wonder as to the necessity of it for children. Do we really want to talk about chasing and killing whales with our young ones? Why not wait until children can experience Melville himself?

Note: I received digital review copies of the Cozy Classics books for review consideration.

(Cybils 2012) Babies

This week’s Cybils’ focus is on babies! Since my baby is quickly getting old (she’ll be ten months old next week), I’m mourning the loss of a not-yet-crawling baby, but looking forward to coming months of a baby who is more interested in playing and reading with me! She obviously already loves books by the way she devours them (literally trying to eat them, which is of course perfectly age appropriate!).Continue Reading

(Cybils 2012) This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Sequels are always tricky.

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Candlewick, 2012) is a follow-up to Klassen’s highly successful I Want My Hat Back, which was about a bear searching for his hat among his forest friends … and ended with a spot of rabbit fur. I Want My Hat Back provided a regular pattern: asking, answering, and large text to help my budding reader. It flowed in a wonderful way.

This is Not My Hat changes the scene a little bit. Now a small fish is telling the reader about the hat he has stolen from a large fish, convincing the reader that the other fish will not know who it was who took his hat. The illustrations tell otherwise.

For me, though, the story, while similar and clever much as This Is Not My Hat, seems to lack the same sense of pattern. Reading it aloud with my young reader does not provide the same feeling of reading along. While my son actually wanted to “sing” I Want My Hat Back because of the feeling of pattern he got reading it, This Is Not My Hat failed to provide that same feeling. It was clever, yes, but it ultimately fell short of fantastic for me. There was no underlying passion such as I felt when reading I Want My Hat Back.

Many people seem to love this book just as much as the first, however. Please talk with me about it.

  • What about this book makes it stand out to you?
  • If you were unfamiliar with the first book, would you love this book as much as you do?
  • What about this book makes it successful for you?

I get the humor, and I enjoy the minimalist artwork. But it just did not do much for me or my son as we read it together. Compared to other books published in the last year, this one just fell flat for me.

(Cybils 2012) Letters and Numbers

My time as a Cybils judge is quickly running out, but I still have many, many picture books to share with you. I will probably keep reviewing Cybils picture books in January, because I do want to give some of these books a fair share on my blog! Today I’m focusing on some of the books about letters and numbers.Continue Reading