Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

December 14, 2009

The Mind of [my] 17-Month-Old

Buying books for toddlers is, I have discovered, a bewildering enterprise. It isn’t so much that there is a gap in the literature for the youngest toddlers – books tend to be “for babies” followed by 2-5 year-olds – though that can be frustrating. And it isn’t that there’s any lack of authoritative bodies to offer recommendations for parents without the time (or ability – spending time in the children’s section of a book store with an actual child in tow is an invitation to a disastrous shelving incident) to browse, for everyone from local library associations to awards bodies have lists for handy reference. It’s that toddlers have the most unexpected preferences. My 30-year-old brain can’t anticipate her 17-month-old one. I have had to resort to quantity over quality, in the hopes that if you swing enough times one is bound to connect with the ball eventually.

In the hopes that I can save even one of you from the same bewilderment I am experiencing, I have compiled below a list of recommendations and vetoes, based not on my literary expertise but instead on my child’s actual preferences.

5 Books My Toddler Loves For No Good Reason I Can Work Out

M is For Moose: A Charles Patcher Alphabet by Charles Patcher, Cormorant Books.

I really thought Patcher’s art was a bit high concept for a 1.5 year old.  I mean, Elizabeth Simcoe?  Margaret Laurence?  Who is the target audience here?  But colour me wrong, she loves this damn thing.  We read it three times at a sitting.  It might be the combination of photo-realism and bright, stark colours in Patcher’s art.  It also might be the ducks and moose.  See below.

A Barbecue For Charlotte by Marc Tetro, McArthur & Co.

This book was actually a gag gift to myself, bought long before Miss Margaret was conceived.  Charlotte the Moose wants to play with the boys but THEY all have antlers and she doesn’t, so she wears a barbecue on her head to fit in.  It’s sort of the story of my life.  The writing is… well, not exactly clear and well thought out.  The pictures are bright and shiny though.  I thought that might be why Maggie likes it, but she really gets into the story nowadays, yelling “NO!” when we learn Charlotte doesn’t like pretty bows, and giggling with the other animals when Charlotte first puts the BBQ on her noggin.  Go figure!

10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston, Scholastic Books

I won’t lie to you, I don’t like this book at all.  It’s highly annoying.  It is a library book to us, and after it goes back I won’t be getting it again.  My big pet peeve with kids books right now is lazy poetry.  This one tries to get away with rhyming “down” and “none” as well as “dance” and “fence”.  But man, Maggie loves it.  Does she even have any idea what on earth all those turkeys are doing?  I doubt it.  But she likes the refrain – “Gobble gobble wibble wobble”.  Fine.  Whatever.  But never again!

Have You Seen My Cat? by Eric Carle, Aladdin Books

Maggie is an Eric Carle fiend, which I suppose many children are.  I don’t blame her, his books are simple and pretty.  But this one in particular I don’t see the appeal of.  It’s repetitive without being musical – “Have you seen my cat?  This is not my cat!” over and over again.  And can a 1.5 year old really tell the difference between a panther, a cougar, a cheetah and a leopard?  Does it matter?  She seems to grasp which ones say “meow” and which ones say “rawr”, at least!

Snuggle Puppy: A Little Love Song by Sandra Boynton

Okay, I admit I know why she likes this one.  It’s based on a (totally uninspired) song off her Philadelphia Chickens album which I picked up at a garage sale for 25 cents, and so I “sing” rather than “read” this one, complete with hugs and kisses.  So what’s not to like?  Well how about THE BOOK?  Boynton seems to have banged off this one on a weekend.  There are hardly any pictures and the song is boring.  I like Boynton when she’s at her best (Hippos Go Berserk, But Not the Hippopotamus, Moo, Baa, La La La) but the board book versions of her crummy songs all seem like cheap money grabs.

***

5 Books My Toddler Should Like, But Doesn’t

The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, Harper Collins

I remember loving this book as a kid, but the young Miss does not.  Of course reading it as an adult, I’m sorta glad: this is the tale of a young spirit stiffled and smothered by an overbearing parent.  Maggie’s complaint with it seems to be the dry black-and-white pages… she hastily turns ahead to the paintings.  But even they are not enough of a draw to make her ever want to actually read this one.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Harper Collins

Okay, yes, this isn’t age-appropriate, but neither are a lot of the books we read.  There is less text in this book than in many that she loves.  The book is tolerated until we actually come to the place where the wild things are, and then she yells “NO NO NO” and shuts the book.  I think the monsters are a tad too aggressive for her – we will revisit this one in the future.

Anything by Dr. Seuss

I started with Fox in Socks, because I enjoy reading it.  We tried Cat in the Hat because it had more of a narrative.  We downgraded to Hop on Pop and One Fish, Two Fish and finally, in desperation, tried the abridged pocket version of There’s a Wocket in my Pocket, but we’ve had no luck.  Perhaps it’s that the critters are too strange looking, or that the books are too long, but she has absolutely zero interest in the works of Dr. Seuss.  This makes me a sad, sad mother.

Have You Seen my Duckling? by Nancy Tafuri, Harper Collins

Have You Seen My Cat redux, right?  Wrong.  My best guess is that Maggie doesn’t know what to make of the many pages with no words.  I tried to make up a story for her on those pages but she seems to know that something’s up, maybe because the story changes every time.  She also can’t find the duckling, so the hide-and-seek format is lost on her.  Instead she “finds” the other seven ducklings standing right there and wonders why the mother duck is such a bone-head.  Sigh.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Harper Collins

This is a no-brainer.  Maggie LOVED this book up until a few months ago and now it (along with the Going to Bed Book) is the great enemy.  Because Goodnight Moon means we’re going to bed, and that is a BAD THING.  Even if we love to find the socks on each page, and the mouse and kittens are great old friends – no.   I ‘m wise to your tricks, mummy.  I know you’re trying to put me to bed and I won’t have it!  Poor maligned Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd.  Still I keep it on the night stand just in case.  At the least, yelling at Goodnight Moon has become part of our bedtime ritual.  I’ll take what I can get!

4 thoughts on “The Mind of [my] 17-Month-Old”

  1. Kerry Clare says:

    I love this post. A glimpse into the future!

  2. melanie says:

    I love this post too. Moira (at almost 21 months) has really gotten into Dr. Seuss lately – we HAVE to read Wacky Wednesday and Wocket in my Pocket before naps and bedtime. When she starts getting frustrated/tired she yells out her sleep demands: Nap! Bottle! Wacky! Wocket! It is really funny. I’m kind of sick to death of Wacky Wednesday mind you – it isn’t his greatest.

    I love what you said about Boyton – some of her books I love (Barnyard Dance, The Going to Bed Book and Moo Ba La La La in particular) and some are just awful.

    I really want to find a copy of M is for Moose – it sounds like something Moira would like.

  3. Rob says:

    I just reread this posting and I think it is one of your best. I know you don’t claim to be a literary critic, but you’re damn good at this niche, books for young children. I look forward to another roll of the book appreciation dice when Miss Margaret is older.

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