Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pers: How to avoid lame children’s books

There’s no easy answer. You have to assiduously devour several libraries. Going by authors certainly helps. Take at least a quick search through each book for the odd or stimulating.

I’m talking about books for you to read to children. Children's books are a whole new world for adults, when it's time for that second, vicarious childhood. For the discerning adult, they can be quite exciting or beautiful, although usually too damn short. I've listed here some worthwhile books, to give you a head start.

What’s wrong with lame books? Well, why pick them when there are books that are stimulating, interesting on more than one level? I like non-lame because it’s more likely to stir the imagination, and give them wondrous expectations of this world. And since I'm doing a lot of reading, I'd like it to be a pleasant experience for everyone. I think that's quite important.

Most children’s books are lame. They do this, they do that, the end. Mundane. Generally, books that are tie-ins to tv or film can be quite lame, because they sell on the recognition factor. But even if the book is introducing new concepts, it can do it more wondrously than 80% of books out there. There are even quite basic books that aren’t lame.
I get an objective confirmation of my choices: when I check books out of one library, I get frequent beeps. Those are books marked on the "Premier's Reading List" - a State government programme to encourage reading, that identifies especially worthwhile books.

When kids choose the books themselves, they’re not going by your criteria. So expect lameness, but find some insight into their choices. My daughter’s first pick at school was one from the interminable series Clifford the Big Red Dog. Familiarity. We got one once before, and I see it’s on tv. (“Why did you get this book?” “I like the cover”). Don’t knock their choices at all, but if you’re doing the reading, you can also find books that carry.

Generally, I go for wild flights of imagination, or the unconventional ending, or odd variants on common stories.

Try these authors or books:
  • Allan Ahlberg
  • Pamela Allen [odd people, odd situations]
  • Dianne Bates - Big Bad Bruce [for the ending]
  • John Birmingham [often imaginative. Not the Australian humourist/social writer]
  • Quentin Blake, as author [often unexpected, often charming, sometimes a little pedestrian]
  • Anthony Browne [sometimes quite surreal; obsessed with monkeys]
  • Keith Du Quette – A Ripping Day for a Picnic [simple story, lovely illustrations]
  • Tohby Riddle [Australian author - lives close by, in Coogee I believe]
  • Phyllis Root – Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble
  • Tony Ross [often lots of fun]
  • John Scieszka – The Book that Jack Wrote [escapes its boundaries]
  • Maurice Sendak [of course]
Lots more wonders than I can possibly remember. I’ll add more when they come to me.

Libraries are essential for the sheer bulk and variety. You can put the child off with a limited range that they don’t like or are bored by.
There will remain issues of comprehension and concentration. It’s hard to age-categorise books, because of different differential speeds. You just have to test it out, and see whether your subject wanders away - literally. A very direct critical device!

One more thing: some kids like books more than others; some have less patience or concentration. Work with what you’ve got, don’t try to make the child change. Books are so diverse that it’s possible to find something for everyone.
(Myself, I’ve gone through a lot of books on construction machinery!)

Oh, and I still like much of Dr Seuss. Makes the outlandish seem everyday.

    No comments: