Not all picture books are bright and happy. Kids have a wide range of emotions and experiences, and there are books for all of them. Or pretty much all of them, in any case. There are picture books about being sad, and there are picture books about things that will make you sad.
This post isn’t about those books. This post is about picture books that I am pretty sure are not meant to make anyone sad. I might be an outlier in finding these books sad. You’ll have to read them yourself and be the judge of the subjective sad level contained in these volumes.
My Dad Used to Be Cool by Keith Negley
Here is a book about a dad who used to have punk hair and play in a band before he became a dad. Not that he’s a dad, his hair is short and he doesn’t have time for the music. The reviews of this book all seem to find this sweet –praising the depiction of the sacrifices parents make—but when I read it, I am reminded of the way our culture seems to require parents (especially moms, but also dads as in this book) to give up their identities and hobbies when they have kids. Love music? Try Raffi. Counterculture style? Not gonna work. It makes me sad, honestly. I know not everyone conforms. There are some punk parents out there doing their own thing, and there are parents who play music or indulge in other passion projects. But those are the minority. Most people are like the dad in this book. We used to be someone; Now we’re someone’s parent. So I guess it’s relatable content, but it’s sad relatable content, in my opinion.
Days with Dad by Nari Hong
This is a book I really wanted to love. There are so few picture books that show disabilities at all, much less a disabled parent, that I wanted to be able to recommend this one widely since it features a dad who is a wheelchair user with his daughter. Unfortunately, the book is one long string of apologies from the dad for all the things he cannot do. The semi-autobiographical text is meant to be feel-good though, because the little girl replies with a positive bit after every apology. Can’t ice skate? No problem, you can lace up my skates for me. Over and over again. I see the attempt at optimism, and I raise you with this: Why did we need a picture book version of internalized ableism? Yeah, I get that probably a lot of disabled folks feel like they are a burden or a disappointment to their loved ones on occasion, but that is a sad thing about our culture. That’s not a “cheer up, pal” kind of thing. That’s an actually really sucky thing that many of us, myself included, fight within ourselves because our culture tells us we’re less than we should be. That’s not uplifting to me, folks. It’s sad.
I feel bad that both of these books are dad books. Stay tuned for a future post sharing dad books that don’t make me sad.
“Dads are so in,” Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl said in the latest episode of Pratfalls of Parenting. I laughed when I heard that, but I think it’s true. At least when it comes to picture books. Prove it, you say? Here are a few new picture books that come to mind:
Dad’s First Day by Mike Wohnoutka is about a little boy’s first day of school. The little boy is completely ready for school, but the dad isn’t quite there yet. This is exactly how I felt when my daughter started preschool. Very cute story for parents, especially dads.
Ask Me by Bernard Waber follows a father and daughter as they walk and talk on a fall day. The little girl’s loquacious inquisitiveness will be familiar to many parents, and the lovely art by one of my favorite illustrators adds to the sweet father-daughter story.
Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein is a bedtime book about a little tadpole and his very patient dad who just wants to sleep. We’ve all been there, right?
Want more? Try these links:
The louse on the cover of Elise Gravel’s book is cute and friendly, but I can assure you from personal experience that head lice are not cute when you are picking them off your child’s head. Not cute at all. My feelings about that first awful little louse plucked from my child’s head were anything but friendly.
My thoughts went to laundry and combing and poison shampoos. It was more than a little overwhelming. As the louse in Gravel’s book says, “I might be small, but to your parents, I’m scarier than a lion.” So true. There are various ways to deal with those horrible parasites, but we chose to call in the professionals.
At the Minnesota Lice Lady office, a whole team of ladies walk freaked out parents through the whole lousy business with patience and kindness. They let us repeatedly ask for reassurance to their matter-of-fact statements. Are you sure we don’t have to wash the bedding and quarantine the stuffed animals? Are you sure we don’t have to comb every night for two weeks? You are really offering a 60 day guarantee? They did all the work, and we just watched and learned. We learned enough the know that Gravel’s book, while adorable, perpetuates the myth that lice live in the environment and can be spread through sharing hats or clothes. Check out the more Myths & Facts on the MN Lice Lady web site.
Now that I have had enough distance from the whole episode to think rationally about it, I can say that I highly recommend Minnesota Lice Lady if you ever find yourself in that unfortunate situation. I even recommend Head Lice by Elise Gravel (despite the misconception noted above) because after all we’ve been through with those terrible little bugs, it is kind of funny to think of them as cute and friendly. Gravel has a whole series of cute books about Disgusting Creatures that kids will probably love.
Note: This is not a sponsored post. I genuinely appreciated MN Lice Lady’s services. The book was a library book.
How old should a child be before he or she should be allowed to ride public transit by themselves?
I don’t have a good answer to that question, and I don’t know that one exists. If you go by the discussion I heard on my drive to work this morning on MPR News, it certainly seems like the two sides (free range parents vs. helicopter parents) will never find common ground. I fall somewhere in the middle, probably closer to helicopter than I might like to admit.
The truth is that I know more than a few adults who are afraid or extremely hesitant to ride public transit by themselves. I feel like I am forever assuring people that the city bus seems scarier than it really is while they counter with stories that begin with “I heard…” and end with something terrible happening. The idea of convincing parents that their children should ride a bus solo seems rather ludicrous in that context.
Just a few hours after listening to experts and callers weigh in on the topic, I happened upon a picture book that provided another perspective. In The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc, a little girl rides a bus by herself for the first time. Her bus ride looks a little bit different from my usual bus rides. Her world is populated by what appear to be scary animals. Wolves and bears board the bus with her. They seem intimidating, but in the end, they are friendly, or at least benign. The girl’s solo trip is not without adventure, but it is a quiet sort of adventure. It seems like a just-right adventure in this book.
It doesn’t answer any questions or set any guidelines for solo bus travel, but it does portray public transit as a gentle place full of community, much like Last Stop on Market Street did. That is a message that I can firmly get behind. I still have no idea when I will allow my daughter to ride public transit on her own, but I sincerely hope that she will feel comfortable doing so as an adult. Until then, we’ll be off in search of just-right adventures of our own, in books and in life. Some solo, some together.
- Lenore Skenazy’s writes about letting her nine-year-old ride the NYC subway alone (and the response she got after she wrote about it) in this essay.
- The recent NPR story about free-range parenting.
- A review of The Bus Ride from one of my favorite kidlit review blogs.
- Peek inside a bit of The Bus Ride on the publisher’s web site.
I am sick of talking about princesses. I am sick of my daughter talking about how much she loves princesses, but I’m also sick of hearing and reading about parents hating princesses. So when a review copy of The Princess Problem landed on my desk at work, I rolled my eyes and ignored it for a while.
Princesses aren’t going anywhere however, and neither was this book. When I finally gave it a chance, I was pleasantly surprised. The Princess Problem was more than a rant about how princesses are ruining our daughters. It’s actually a guide to talking to our kids about the media they consume as it relates to princesses. There are discussion questions for movies and ideas for healthy media consumption. It’s a fantastic resource with a practical sensibility. Find out more on the author’s web site.
While I’m on the topic of princesses, I want to recommend a couple of books that will appeal to both princess-loving kids and princess-hating parents:
- The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale is an early chapter book about a princess who is secretly a superhero. My six-year-old daughter was obsessed with this book for months, which is a pretty strong endorsement right there. Definitely a fun pick for the kids who want to dress up in pretty clothes and do the rescuing.
- Princess in Training by Tammy Sauer features a disappointing princess. She’s not very princessy, but those non-princessy interests come in handy when a dragon sneaks in the castle. This picture book is cute and fun.
- Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider has enough pink sparkles on the cover to attract the princess loving kid, but the story isn’t really about princesses. It’s about a girl and her doll and what happens when that doll is attacked by the family dog.
Parents and other people who interact with kids might also be interested in this post on Princess Shaming in which a librarian advises, “Find out what it is about the princess that makes your kid want to read about her and be her; find out what your kid thinks it means to play princess.”
Right on. Instead of hating princesses, let’s think critically about them.
I meant to post something about gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving, but the days were full of holiday preparations to the point that I had no time to spare on putting such words together. Now that I have a moment, let me express a surprising bit of gratitude: I am thankful for my mornings.
No one in my family is a morning person, least of all me, so any positive feeling at that time of day is outside of my usual. But things have shifted with the beginning of this school year. After years of getting up super early to take the bus to work well before my daughter woke for school, I have traded in my bus pass for a set of car keys.
My mornings are no longer a frenzied rush to make my bus. They are comparatively slower and much happier. They have become my most treasured moments with my daughter. We talk about our dreams and plans over breakfast, and sometimes we even have time to share a story or two. By the time I send her off to school and leave for work, I am smiling. I can’t help it.
One of my favorite morning moments was from a story we read one day before school. The book was The Best Time of Day by Eileen Spinelli, and my daughter shared her own best, which was not far off from my own. She had a dreamy/happy voice when she said how much she loved mornings–at school. Her favorite time of day is that moment when she first gets to school. “There are kids and teachers talking and laughing. The piano is playing, and everyone is saying hi to each other and rushing around. I just love it so much.”
These are the moments I don’t want to miss. It’s the stuff of happiness, right? Watching this little girl experience the world as her own individual while sharing so much of who she is with her father and me makes me happy. I’m grateful for moments like this.
Happiness is complicated though, especially when it comes to our kids. Parenting is not all sunshine and lollipops. You don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure. I probably didn’t need a whole book telling me that over and over in different ways, but I still read All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior. And somehow, I even loved it. For all the bleak stories and statistics in the book that threatened to be pretty depressing, it was all so fascinating. She chronicles how the word “parent” turned into a verb, how kids went from being “economically worthless to emotionally priceless,” and how happiness plays a role in all of this stuff in a shifting world where there is no script for any of us.
In the absence of a script, it’s just love. It’s just little moments where we read stories and talk about our favorite things. It’s the days when we can’t help but smile.
Read or watch more:
“Books are the easiest way to get the conversation rolling in a low-stress environment.” –Lindsey Hoskins, sex educator
I say this (or things like it) all the time, and I love to hear other people start saying it too. Sometimes I worry that the Children’s Book Person in me makes me see every problem as one that can be solved by books. That (probably) isn’t true, but I do think that books are really important for talking about the stuff that’s difficult to talk about. It’s a lot easier to bring up a behavior issue or other circumstance when you can frame the conversation around a character in a book rather than the child in question. Finger pointing and spotlight shining usually do more harm than good, and there is no conversation in which both parent and child want to avoid pointing and spotlights more than the Sex Talk, which arguably shouldn’t be just one talk anyway. And that’s where books come in.
All this stems from the new episode of Pratfalls of Parenting—a fantastic podcast I’ve recommended before–in which Lindsey Hoskins shares her expertise as a sex educator/parent. It is a great conversation for parents curious about how to approach sex stuff with kids. She recommended Robie Harris‘ books about sex ed for kids: It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal. Both are frank but age-appropriate guides to where babies come from, etc. They have become classics, and must-haves for parents who want to open a healthy dialog with their kids about sex and puberty.
If you’re looking for a cute way to talk about where babies come from, try The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall, in which several possibilities are explored as people try to answer the little boy’s question. The answers just end up confusing him though. Babies come from eggs? Babies come from seeds? He does get the whole answer eventually. It’s a book about where babies come from that might actually be described as charming. Who would have thought? Here’s a trailer to get an idea of the cuteness:
Another book I’d add to the list of titles to consider for families with young kids is not about sex ed at all. Miles is the Boss of his Body is about personal safety and empowerment. It is important for kids to know that they can and should set boundaries and speak up if they don’t want to be tickled, pinched, or hugged. There is even a discussion guide to go along with it for teachers or parents who want to bring this subject up but don’t really know what to say about it.
You can learn more from Ms. Hoskins or one of the other educators at her clinic in the Parents as Sexuality Educators class offered by Family Tree Clinic. I had the opportunity to attend one through my church last year, and I highly recommend it.
Note: This is not a sponsored post. It’s just my opinion! :)