Monday, September 8, 2008

Happiness-Inducing Childrens' Books: An Incomplete Annotated Bibliography

I'm sure I'll miss some, but I wanted to share what I can remember, at the moment. These will be approximately in age order, from youngest to oldest (of the person you read them to).

Note on Cornelia's idiolect ("idiolect" is linguistics-ese for the way that you, and you alone, talk): "little people" means "children".

Sandra Boynton used to write Hallmark cards (gaak!) but has gone on to a distinguished career as a writer of some of the most hysterically funny board books you have (n)ever laid hands on. Three of my most favorites at the moment are:

What's Wrong, Little Pookie?
The story is a simple one of a little child (maybe two or three years old) who is upset, as his mother tries to calm him down. For any of my readers who may not interact with small children on a regular basis, I have to say that this book is very, very realistic in its dialogue and resolution. Well, it's pretty close, anyway.

Dinosaur's Binkit
I bought a copy of this at DI, ended up giving it to my nephew because he liked it so much, and then ended up getting another copy for myself. In the story, the dinosaur has to go to bed, but is upset because he can't find his blanket. I won't tell you the ending, but I will tell you that it's happy. This book has one shiny/mirror part (little people like these a lot-- they like looking at their eyes in the mirror), fuzzy parts, AND flaps.

Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy
Last Christmas I wanted to get my youngest nephew a "feely" book for his present. I saw several options, some of which were eminently acceptable, but when I saw that Sandra Boynton had written one, I knew that my search had ended. ["Feely" books have unusual textures incorporated in to the pages: sponges, faux fur, plastic, sandpaper, etc. I have to admit that these are more enjoyable to read in the presence of the little people they are intended for.]

I cannot leave the topic of Sandra Boynton without mentioning that she is also the lyricist for such classic songs as "Philadelphia Chickens," "Go to Sleep, My Zoodle," and "I Want to Be Your Personal Penguin," which is my just-younger-sister's theme song, because she is (mediumly) obsessed with penguins. You can find a recording of the penguin song here:

(I hope that is it. I'm at work-- not on the clock, just so you know-- and at work, youtube is blocked, so I don't know for sure that the link is good. But I got it by googling "I want to be your personal penguin".)

Goodnight, Gorilla
by Peggy Rathman
Follows the touching saga (OK, just kidding) of a zookeeper who thinks he is putting all of the animals to bed, but in reality the mouse has stolen his key, and handed it to the gorilla, who lets out all of the animals in turn right after the zookeeper passes their cages. It's just a classic. That's all I have to say. Well, that, and that this book is happiness-inducing because it is so silly.

Warning: age jump. We are now entering the realm of books with rippable pages.

Duck Soup
by Jackie Urbanovic
I ran across this at Borders, one day when I was trying to decide how to spend my Christmas Present/ Gift card. In retrospect, I should have spent it on this book. It's about a duck that is making soup, and he decides to go out for something-- maybe it's another ingredient, I can't remember-- and when his friends wander in, they think he has fallen in the soup. Reading this now, it really doesn't seem that funny at all, but I promise that it was quite-- well-- happiness-inducing. The book even won an award of some kind. Plus, Jackie Urbanovic lives in Maryland, which means that the book has to be good.

Mouse Tails
by Arnold Lobel
This book of short stories is by the same guy that wrote the Frog and Toad series. I'm putting it at this point in the age-sequence because, even though it is more of a chapter book, the stories themselves really appeal more to the five-to-seven-year-old set. But a grownup with a properly developed sense of humor will also find them amusing. Really.

Books that are not so much hapinesss-inducing as just plain cool, and which are mostly pictures:

by David Wiesener
Probably no one reading this blog has not read and loved this book, but if I didn't mention it, someone would be sure to comment and mention it. (Hey, wait a minute...) Brief plot synopsis: one Tuesday night, the frogs in a particular town start floating. This is unexpected to all. Both oddness and hilarity ensue.

by Rufus Seder
This is another book that I bought for nephew, and then ended up getting for myself. Through a technique that is hard enough to explain when the book is in front of you (and possibly impossible when it isn't, so I'm not going to try), the black-and-white illustrations in this book really look like they're moving when you turn the pages.

Thought-provoking, but still happy, in a quiet sort of way:

The Gardener
by Sarah Stewart and David Small
My oldest nephew really loved this book when he was about four. It's about a little girl who goes to live with her uncle in the city during the great depression. The story is close to as sad as the premise indicates, but it is also, as its inclusion on this list indicates, happy.

I really like Sarah Stewart and David Small. {Warning: irrelevant story in the rest of the paragraph.} They came and gave a talk at the HBLL a couple of years ago (which I quite enjoyed), and after the talk was over, I happened to overhear Sarah Stewart saying she was hungry, and I just so happened to have a couple of homegrown juliet tomatoes with me, which kind of tomatoes are the most delicious in the world that I have tasted thus far. So I offered them to her, and she accepted, and that's all there is to that story.

They also wrote a book together called The Friend, but that one is far more thought-provoking than happiness-inducing, so it goes on another list.

The Three Questions
by John J. Muth
is based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy. I actually liked the original story better-- OK, what I know of the original story from the note in the back of the book-- but this story is way and definitely wonderful, leaving you feeling like you might be a better person than you thought you were, and that you just might be able to save the world by small acts of kindness after all. Or something like that. It probably depends on your mood. I encountered this one on that same buying trip wherein I found Duck Soup, and no, I didn't buy this one, either. I was determined to buy some music, but was disappointed in the musicality of the musicians on the recording I got. Anyway. I was already familiar with Mr. Muth because I owned Zen Shorts, which is also very, very good. And which I maybe should have put on this list, too, but it is getting to be a very long list.

The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness
by Colin Thompson
This is the book that inspired this whole blog. It's on sale RIGHT NOW at the bookstore (notice that around here, just as "the church," uncapitalized, means "the LDS church," "the bookstore," uncapitalized, means of course the BYU bookstore) and the only reason why I haven't bought it is because of a lack of funds. Which I may just choose to ignore and, as I regularly tell my best friend, eat potatoes for a week (i.e. take it out of the food budget). I have to say that putting staff picks on sale is one of the most brilliant ideas anyone around there has come up with in some time, and if they stole it from someone else, so much the better.

Here's a very brief synopsis: "George lived alone with his grandmother and an empty place where his mother and father should be." (That is from, I think, the first page, and it is on every synopsis I have seen of this book, including the inside front flap.) After this sad beginning, we see that George adopts an unloved puppy.

Think it sounds boring? Think it sounds only mildly happiness-inducing? I dare you. Just read it.


kjh said...

Since my oldest child began to move beyond picture books, at least when she was in bed and I was reading to her at night, I have been hunting for good chapter books at pretty much the lowest level chapter books can be written at. There are a couple about a pig that I will try to post later, because I don't remember the title at the moment.

However, I must recommend Sarah Plain and Tall. Also, I had never read the series before about a month ago (and even now I'm only beginning) but I highly recommend The Boxcar Children. The first book was published in 1942, so it's interesting to contemplate the children that they tell of being 5-15 years older than my father. According to the back page of the first book, they were written by a teacher who saw the need for good books at this level, and they emphasize self reliance, hard work, and making do with what you have or using things well. Thus far I've found this to be very accurate. I do find myself explaining some things that have changed over time, like why my children can't go to the beach and collect items like the children in the book do, but over all these are exceptionally readable for modern children without extra vocabulary explanations, unlike most books I've found that are 50+ years old.

kjh said...

Check out the Mercy Watson books by Kate Decamillo. You don't know what you're missing until you find them... please, please take the time, because you're truly missing out unless you do.