Sunday, June 27, 2010

Children's Book Recommendations:: Stories About Feelings

As a kid I don't remember actually owning more than a half-dozen books at any one time. Acton, the town where I grew up, did not have a bookstore. But even so, books were thought of as Christmas and birthday gifts and not something you bought just because and we got our books at the library. But somewhere between here and there I stopped going to the library and started to buy books instead and the library became a quaint memory. Me and the library got reacquainted when kids came along and I realized what chumps we'd been for buying so many books when we could have borrowed them, and more besides, for free. We are a family of library enthusiasts once again. With a four-year old in the house, I look for books tagged with a  Toronto Public Library "Ready For Reading" sticker,  which identifies books that relate to one of the six steps of reading readiness: liking books, hearing word sounds, building vocabulary, narrative, seeing words in print, alphabet awareness. There is more about that here.

Reading and re-reading great books with my kids is something I truly love. They have free reign at the library and I try not to filter any of their selections. But while my son is loading up on books about trucks, trains or dogs I choose a few of my own. I'm gratified when one of my picks makes it into heavy reading rotation. I thought sharing some of our family favourites would make for a good post every now and then. On that note, here are a few books that tackle the messy world of feelings, both good and bad.


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. 
By Judith Viorst

From waking up with gum in his hair, to his two older brothers both finding a prize in their cereal box while he came up empty-handed, Alexander's day is off to a bad start. And it doesn't get any better. Kid-sized frustrations mount throughout the day and all Alexander can think about is moving to Australia - where surely there is no such thing as a bad day. Written in 1972, this is a cool book to me because his parents don't rush to smooth out his bad feelings - or deny them - the way we might today. Alexander is allowed to have a crummy day and go to bed with the hope that tomorrow will be better.

The Giving Tree
By Shel Silverstein

It was originally published in 1964, though I don't recall reading this book as a child. I picked it up randomly a couple of years ago and so I was able to read it without any expectations or awareness that it was a well-known and beloved book. It's beautiful and sad with a moral that is open to interpretation. Why didn't anyone ever tell me about it? My take is that it is a tender and maybe even unsympathetic parable about parenting and the price of selflessness. But you'll have to decide for yourself. While searching for a cover image for this post I came across a photo of a guy who had an entire page from the book tattooed across his back. What can I can tell you? It's a memorable story worth pondering on your own and with your kid.

The Pigeon Finds A Hot Dog
By Mo Willems

A pigeon finds a hot dog and is about to tuck in to his favourite food in the entire world when he is interrupted by an innocent-seeming duckling with a lot of questions and an ulterior motive. There is something about the snappish dialogue, written using comic book-style speech bubbles, that begs this story to be read aloud with attitude and maybe even an accent. Over the course of many readings we've adopted a sarcastic Bugs Bunny voice for the role of pigeon. But whatever you choose, read with gusto. Cool typography. I didn't think a kid would pay attention to fonts, but my four-year old son understands what parts are loud or angry because of Willems' typography.

The Story of Ferdinand
By Munro Leaf

The story of sweet-natured bull who would rather sit beneath his favourite cork tree and smell the flowers than fight in the bullring in town. A case of mistaken identity leads a group of bullfight organizers to capture Ferdinand and bring him to the city to face the bravest matador. Ferdinand stays true to his nature and refuses to fight and is eventually returned home to his cork tree in the field. The sweetest story of self-acceptance. I was shocked to discover it was published in 1936. Magical drawings of Spain by Robert Lawson.

Happy reading.