Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Children's Books

As a book-loving father of two, Slimbo spends a lot of time reading children's books. These generally run the gambit between likable and enormously unlikeable without too much in between. My formula for a good children's book is simple: (1) not too long, (2) beautiful or at least engaging artwork, (3) humor and (4) not preachy.

Let's get right into it.

GOOD - Best Friends for Frances - by Russell Hoban. Frances' friend Albert is a gluttonous chauvinist and she puts him right in his place. Go girl! This one takes some time to get through, but it's well worth it.

BAD - Berenstein Bears - Father Bear is an idiot, Brother and Sister Bear are unlikable brats and Mother Bear is an insufferable, preachy shrew. Ah, suburban dyspepsia reaches even into the animal kingdom.

GOOD - Louie by Ezra Jack Keats. Anything by Ezra Jack Keats is beautiful. His combination of collage and painting beautifully capture a child's emotional landscape in the inner city. Louie is a simple, gentle story showing how children can treat each other decently.

BAD - Once Upon a Potty, Alona Frankel. Joshua gets a new potty. Yes, wonderful, Joshua. Joshua uses his new potty. Now, Joshua loves his new potty and he uses it every time. Joshua is 42, overweight and still lives with his mother. When we were potty training my son I had to read this damn book every night for months. Painful. I swear to God if I ever meet Joshua, I'm going to punch him in his fat stupid face.

GOOD - Angelina Ballerina - Katherine Holabird. Beautifully illustrated tale about a girl (mouse) who simply loves to dance. It's nice to see Angelina in her youthful, exuberant days before she grows up, moves to New York City to audition with Alvin Ailey, whereupon she lives for months on coffee, saltines and cigarettes. Later, she'll just become the waifish girlfriend of a Russian mobster-mouse wallowing away in some apartment in Howard Beach. Poor Angelina.

BAD - Anything from the Strawberry Shortcake series. You wanna go on a diet? Read these books. You'll never order desert again in your life. I go into diabetic shock every time my daughter pulls this out of her book stack. Disgusting. Berry, berry disgusting.

GOOD - Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey. This is the way I would want to write a children's book. Sprawling, nonsensical borderline profane goofiness. Farting. Wedgies. Awesome.

BAD - Skippy Jon Jones - by Judy Schachner . A Siamese cat with big ears thinks he's a chiuaua. A bad Mexican accent follows. These books are dense with deprecating Spanglish. Do NOT gift this book to any Latino family - they will rightfully smash you over the head with it.

GOOD - Who's Got the Apple by Jan Loof. A prize-winning apple makes it's way through a town via a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. By the end, the apple ends up right where it belongs. (If you look closely at the last page, there's a panoramic illustration of the town where you can make out the exasperated school principal heading into a bar. Nice.)

AWFUL - Merry Thanksgiving - A family are having all their relatives over for Thanksgiving. These idiots then decide to wait until the morning of Thanksgiving to go shopping. Mom loses her shopping list. Then that genius she married suggests this: "we'll just wait until the whole family gets here, then we'll get the recipes from them..", thus making him the most unhelpful jackass in all the annuls of fiction. It starts to snow...bad. The house is packed and they end up not cooking a damn thing. But then Santa arrives with all their food - cooked, trimmings and all. Nice job, Santa. I'm sure that bankrupt soup kitchen downtown will figure out something in this blizzard.

Ehhh...GOOD I guess: What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins. A little girl tells you about her day in a beautifully paced, gentle voice. But the parents in this book are just SOOOOOOOOO boho-Park Slope Brooklyn chic. You know what, I don't need a children's book to tell me what a predictable, uncool, unlikable suburban schnook I've become.

BAD - Snowball Fight by Jimmy Fallon. Man, I hate it when celebrities write children's books. I mean, God forbid we give a book deal to a real, struggling writer when we can whore ourselves for an extra buck or two? Adam Stower illustrated this book whose text I'd estimate it took Fallon all of seven minutes to write. Seriously, this is an excerpt: "Snowball fight! Snowball, snowball, snowball fight!" Wish I was kidding.

GREAT - The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy. What's important in life? This book helps us through that question and the watercolors absolutely take my breath away. Pick it up now before Romney/Palin take over in 2012 and send bootjack teabaggers to your house to beat you senseless for owning a book by Tolstoy.

What's your favorite children's book?

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