Thursday, February 18, 2016

Nightcap: Our Forever Books

Once upon a time a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!

By Mallika S *

While taking the train down the peninsula from San Francisco, we passed San Carlos where I’d lived for many years when my kids were much younger. Looking out of the train window, the view of the familiar hills in the evening light evoked a feeling of time gone by and surprisingly a sense of dread.

I was carried back to those years as a mom of young kids, when I would commute back from work in San Francisco and disembark every weekday evening to this view of the hills and begin worrying about the long list of things to be accomplished between then and bed-time. Rush to pick kids up from daycare, wonder what to make for dinner, discuss what happened at school and why, help with homework challenges, sibling arguments and then bath and bed. This and more is what working moms do every weekday evening.

What brightened those busy evenings were two treats. First, we'd always stop at a local park, even if for just ten minutes. We covered all the parks in our area, experiencing the novelties each had to offer in the form of playmates, play structures, parents and pets. Writing this makes me want to visit them all again. The second treat was cuddling up with a book, or many of them, which is what this post is really about.

Reading together was always a great way to end the day and since reading was as much a treat for me as for my kids, it was great fun to explore each new book and then decide if it was a 'keeper', that is   a book that is good to read over and over again. After the hurry-scurry of the day, after the lecturing and yelling (which I did in spades according to my now full-grown son), after the cooking and cleaning-up, this was our nightcap.

When I was a child, I had only a few books! I still remember the 3 books I owned when I was in elementary school, which I read hundreds of times: Sujata and the Elephant, which I loved so much, because of the idea of having a an elephant who never forgets you was such a romantic idea. The second was Alice in Wonderland. Its magical realism can still carry me away and the cake always looked delicious to a perpetually hungry kid in boarding school. Hollow Tree House, by Enid Blyton was a favorite in those days. This one about an orphan making her home in a hollow tree and being supplied with delicious food by two friends everyday, was something I wanted to experience myself!

As a parent, my kids and I read our favorite books many times over and some at least fifty times each.  I’m coming to our list of favorites, but I must caveat, that with the passage of time, some of these favorites may just not be the 100% wholesome books I thought they were.

I was particularly distressed that the Berenstain Bears, my ‘go-to’ resource for teaching social emotional skills like courage or caring, are actually under scrutiny for various subtle negative stereotypes and messages they convey. In the book NurtureShock the author writes, “the books and videos always ended on a happy note, with siblings learning to value and appreciate each other, but the first half of the stories portrayed in vivid detail the ways that children can fight, insult and devalue their siblings.”

In another study referenced in the same book, the author points out, “Essentially, Ostrov (a researcher) had just found that Arthur is more dangerous for children than Power Rangers.” And that’s essentially because we cannot predict whether the young viewer or reader will take his message away from the beginning, middle or end of the story!

Here’s to not over-reacting, however, and let’s not throw our favorites out of the window just yet. Let’s use these and other wonderful books – in their totality to help us discuss sensitive topics with our kids, the end goal being more emotional intelligence.

Another example of a good book gone bad in recent times is A Birthday Cake For George Washington, that Scholastic Publishing announced it was pulling from its catalog. The book raised a furor over how it portrays Washington's enslaved household help. It showed them as happy, smiling workers. Here’s what Jeremy Adam Smith who edits Greater Good science magazine at Berkeley had to say: “You know, I read those books aloud to my son. And I also felt ambushed by some of the racist imagery in the books, which nobody had done anything to prepare me for. You know, what I did was I closed the book, and I said - how do you think it would make you feel if you were black and you were reading this? And we talked about that. And this was a lesson - I think I - we had this conversation when my son was about 7 years old. A lot of it went over his head. However, it was the beginning of a discussion that continues to this day, as he approaches 12 years old.”

Conversation accompanies reading books. If books capture the true spirit of our lives, then books must capture the negatives we confront in our lives. Isn't it our responsibility as parents to guide these conversations to help our children confront, absorb and synthesize messages – positive and negative - and to help them be shaped by the discussion around these messages.

Here’s to books and reading and snuggling down. These are our favorites - our “forever books". Loved because they carried us to worlds of fun, adventure or thoughtfulness, many with animal companions who spoke in kind and gentle voices.


Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

The Diggingest Dog by Al Perkins and Eric Gurney

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault

Kipper’s Birthday by Mick Inkpen

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie By Laura Joffe Numerous and Felicia Bond

The Teddy Bears Picnic (first published in 1907!) by Jimmy Kennedy and Alexandra Day

Tiki Tiki Tembo by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent

Where’s Julius? by John Burningham

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton

Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Seuss

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen


Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfizer and J. Alison James

Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

Berenstain Bears by Jan and Mike Berenstain

Patchwork Elephant by David McKee

Grimms Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

A Bell for Ursli by Celina Chonz and Alois Carigiet

Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

* Mallika is an experienced parent who's still learning.

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1 comment:

  1. Must include Mo Willems' extraordinary treasures as well, such as the elephant and piggie books. Life lessons indeed.