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kids’ books i loathe

My kids, like a lot of kids, love books.  In the beginning, I used to read whatever they’d bring me.  But everyone has their limits, and I reached mine the night that Finn brought me “Corduroy” for its 817th reading.  Now, I take matters into my own hands.  I hide books, or just fail to find them, and sometimes, I refuse to read one altogether.  Mom’s done, kids.  Below, a shortlist of my most dreaded kids’ books.

1. Doggies, by Sandra Boynton

I dislike books that force me to make animal sounds.  Unfortunately, animal books are apparently a popular genre for the under-3 set, and this one seems to be especially popular, because what toddler wouldn’t love a book that forces their parent to bark their entire way through it?  The real problem with this book is that, like most humans, I have one standard dog bark that I use in all situations that require that I bark like a dog.  It sounds roughly like this: “rrrooooof.”  This book, however, requires me to produce ten distinct dog barks.  Life is just too damn short.  I keep this book on the top shelf, where Tate can’t see it.

2. Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss

You could really put any Dr. Seuss book here, but Fox in Socks is as illustrative as the rest.  I get Dr. Seuss, I really do.  I am charmed by his illustrations and the dude can rhyme with the best of them.  He generally seems like the kind of fellow that you wouldn’t mind being seated next to at a boring dinner party.

The sole problem with Dr. Seuss–and it’s a doozy–is the length of his books.  It’s not just that they are long, it is that they are sooooooo long.  I have a move that I call, simply, the Seuss.  It involves flipping one page with a chunk of pages behind it.  Your 75 pages can shrink to 23, if done right.  If it’s not done right, all hell is guaranteed to break loose, so I suggest that you first practice with the dog.

3. Waiting for Mama, by Lee Tae-Jun

I’m always trying to inject more Korean influences into my kids’ lives, so I was thrilled when my mom found this book for us.  The text is from a children’s book originally written in Korea in 1938, and it has beautiful and haunting images.  The story is about a little boy who is waiting for his mama to come home on the bus, in the dead of winter–presumably, an allegory of wartime loss.  We should have previewed it before reading it to Finn, we really should have.  But in our excitement, we didn’t, and it turns out that at the end of the book, the kid’s mom NEVER COMES HOME.  I have a clear memory that after Tom finished the book, he gently tucked Finn into bed, closed the door, and then came out into the hallway and hissed, “WHAT THE F%&*.”

4. Olivia Goes to Venice, by Ian Falconer

Olivia’s schtick has gotten increasingly unbearable.  She’s rich, she’s spoiled, and she’s a brat.  Why am I reading this to my kid again?  In previous books, at least her brattiness was limited to her family’s Upper East Side classic six.  In this installment, however, her brattiness brings about the destruction of St. Mark’s campanile, thereby making Olivia the world’s first Ugly American who is literally a pig.

5. Elmer and Friends, by David McKee

This book is really boring, and worse, it was clearly slapped together to justify an eventual Elmer line of plush toys.  How do I know it was slapped together?  Some pages don’t even have the requisite punctuation.  Whenever I get to the page below, I get so distracted that it is difficult to finish the book.  I mean, how little does an editor have to care, for a book with type this big to go to print missing a period at the end of a sentence?  And if the editor can’t be bothered to care about this book, why should I, or my kids?

6. The Complete Adventures of Curious George, by Margret & H.A. Rey

You might know it as the Complete Adventures of Curious George, but I refer to it to the Anthology of Pain.  The illustrations are great.  It’s just that there is zero narrative coherence to any of the stories.  For example, one of the stories begins with George accidentally flooding his house with a hose, moves to George stealing a cow from a farm, and ends with George becoming the first monkey to man a flight to space.  ???  I may be old-fashioned, but I like a bit of narrative arc to a book.  Anyone can paste together a bunch of random thoughts, but then you’d call that a blog, not a book.  And my blog is free.  The Anthology of Pain was not free.  It was like 20 bucks.

7. Have You Seen My Cat?, by Eric Carle

Saying you don’t like Eric Carle books is akin to blasphemy.  But I don’t like them.  You might be struck by Carle’s artwork the first time you read one of his books, but read them enough and soon the thought will inevitably occur to you that your 7-year old can replicate his art at home with some tissue paper and paint.  Story-wise, they are boring as hell.  The worst, for my money, is “Have You Seen My Cat?”  Every page of the book has the same line of text:

Let me repeat: every line in the book is identical.  Eric Carle calls that a book.  I call it punishment.  Also, I hate cats.  This book slipped under the couch once and I knowingly left it there for four months.

In case this post makes you think that I hate both books and kids, I feel obligated to say that I have the highest respect for a lot of kids’ books.  The book below is one of my favorite books, period.  Both the text and illustrations capture mood and a sense of place so beautifully that I am transported every time I read it to my kids.  Get me on the right day, and I will actually tear up while reading it.  Best of all, it’s fun to read aloud.

35 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi! I’ve been reading your weblog for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas!
    Just wanted to tell you keep up the fantastic work!

    January 13, 2014
  2. Khace #

    Someone bought us Goodnight Moon and the follow up Goodnight ipad…those are both really horrible. We’ve run into some real doozies that I’ve checked out from the library and made a special trip back to return because they were so bad and I didn’t want to have to read it again.

    A couple of good ones…Huck Runs Amuck…and Duck on a Bike…hilarious!

    June 11, 2013
    • are these part of the “sheep in a jeep” series, because i dig that book

      April 18, 2014
  3. Christina #

    Just saw this post through your header thing. I agree about Dr. Suess – my son’s name is Sam, so I tried to read him Green Eggs & Ham and almost lost my mind.

    Our favorites are I Am A Bunny and The Belly Button Book. I never seem to get tired of those. I like Madeline, too. Caps for Sale is one that makes my son crack up, too.

    Someone gave us this collection of Richard Scarry books, and it has the world’s creepiest WTF story in it! Pierre Bear is lonely and wants a friend. He takes his rifle and goes in the forest and comes across a moose – a whole page is a beautiful illustration of this moose’s very comical looking face. The next page is Pierre Bear admiring his new coat rack made of moose’s antlers and wishing he had a friend to hang their coat on the other side. My husband and I could not get over it!

    Oh also Guess How Much I Love You? makes me insane, too. Big Nutbrown Hare needs to let Little Nutbrown Hair love him more – I mean come on, daddy, you don’t always have to get the last word!

    AND in the Going to Bed Book – no one exercises AFTER their bath and in their pjs.

    Your blog is really fun! Thanks. 🙂

    September 27, 2012
    • i LOVE caps for sale. i loved it every since i saw lavar burton read it aloud on reading rainbow

      April 18, 2014
  4. Just found your blog. Worst kids book ever: “I Love you Forever” by Robert Munch. Creepy stalker mom.

    September 7, 2012
    • my mother in law hates that book. perhaps because her ex-son in law’s mother loved it a lot. it certainly seems to sell because it is always at the bookstore.

      September 7, 2012
  5. Akie #

    I’ve been reading through your entries based on a recommendation from another one of my favorite blogs, and your writing is fabulous & hysterical. Thanks!

    I will admit that I have plans to inflict the Max books (by Rosemary Wells) on my friends who have children, since I will not have to deal with said children emulating Max. If you haven’t looked into them, give it a try for Tate—they’re relatively simple and amusing. I adore Max’s First Word–his sister spends the entire book trying to get him to say various words, to which he will only say “BANG.” At the end, she gives up and he informs her that his apple is “DELICIOUS!” The delightful stubbornness of small children.

    August 12, 2012
    • Omg. Max and ruby are my favorites. The one where ruby keeps trying to dress Max, and then he dresses himself with the clothes on wrong–so funny. I can see the visual now of Max with a shirt as pants. I love rosemary wells. Thanks for the comment, you made me smile

      August 12, 2012
  6. Ashley #

    Ha – Rick also refuses to read Runaway Bunny b/c of the “blow me” reference.

    I’m constantly astouding by how horrible kids’ books are (poor grammar, poor content, scary characters, or just stupid). But my biggest book pet peeve is Time for Bed by Mem Fox. Overall I think it is really cute / sweet but this line drives me CRAZY:

    It’s time for bed little fish, little fish
    So hold your breath and make a wish!

    What kind of fish can “hold it’s breath”? They have GILLS. How does something like that get through an editor…and how hard would it have been to write something that’s fairly accurate like “so BLOW SOME BUBBLES and make a wish”…”swim to your home and make a wish”…”stare into the sea and make a wish”…..seriously, I could be a children’s author! I’ve “qualified” this passage so many times that now if I read it, Cambree chimes in with “But fish don’t really hold their breath, they breath through gills”. Thanks for clarifying 3 year old!

    I’ve become so frustrated trying to find good children’s books that we’ve pretty much stopped reading them and now almost exclusively read “chapter books”….which are way more interesting for me and rarely have pictures (so the kids tire of listening quicker 😉

    January 27, 2012
    • Ashley, I love that Mem Fox book. It’s peaceful. And it’s blissfully short. I can’t believe how often I’ve read that stupid line and never noticed how it doesn’t make any sense!

      January 27, 2012
  7. autumn #

    I am tearing up laughing at this because I definitely agree! I have totally done the Suess, except now my daughter is 5 and knows:/

    Just found your blog thanks to a friend (who sent me your Ikea furniture-building article – hilarious!). Going to add you to my list of reading!

    January 6, 2012
    • i think the seuss definitely has a workable window–which i’m hoping lasts until they are no longer interested in dr. seuss books. thanks for the feedback, autumn!

      January 6, 2012
  8. Helen Jung #

    About the Korean book — HELLO! It’s Korean. Of course it will be either 1. tragic or 2. twisted. Ever see the movie “Old Boy?”

    And two. Add “Runaway Bunny” to the list, although I have to laugh at this one line. Little Bunny that he will become a sailboat and sail away from the mother. The mother says she will become the wind and blow him where she wants. Little bunny responds: “Well, if you become the wind and blow me…”

    I am only somewhat ashamed to admit that this makes me laugh.

    December 9, 2011
  9. Erik Eklund #

    Sandra Boynton sucks. I think a lot of her books are thinly-veiled rip-offs of other people’s books. I second the emotion on Olivia. I had the opposite experience with Dr. Seuss. I usually have more fun reading him than most of the drivel on the shelf, but the length would tax Lucy’s attention span. As soon as I’d reach for “The Lorax,” she would groan, “but it’s sooooo loooong.” It’s funny, I had the same reaction to “Curious George Gets A Medal.” I mean, WTF? My “All The World” is the Zen series by Jon J. Muth- well, the two I’ve read- “Zen Shorts” and “Zen Ties.” Absolutely brilliant.

    December 9, 2011
    • just ordered zen shorts. god i love amazon prime

      December 9, 2011
  10. Brad M #

    Yoona – Manda and I have been getting a kick out of your blog. I think “Have You Seen My Cat” is the “Dude, Where’s My Car?” of kiddie lit.

    December 6, 2011
  11. Chris Castonguay #

    Yoona, nice blog! I clicked over from Facebook, and all I have to say is AMEN on the Dr. Seuss books being too long… my daughter loves the “Sleep Book”, but a book that you’re supposed to read to kids before bed should be no longer than 15 pages!!

    December 5, 2011
    • Hi Chris! I haven’t read the Sleep Book, and it sounds like I should be glad?

      December 5, 2011
  12. FB #

    I actually still love Fox in Socks. I love the puddles/bottle pages, not sure why. But Otto Goes to the Beach is a really really bad book. I hated say “poor Otto” over and over again. David would get the kids to ask for it just to wind me up.

    December 5, 2011
    • Farah I couldn’t find the Dr. Seuss I really wanted, so Fox in Socks got conscripted. It’s definitely not the worst. I probably should have swapped it for “Yertle the Turtle,” which is long AND sanctimonious.

      December 5, 2011
      • Check out Punk Farm, which is awesome, and the Pink Refridgerator/Dodsworth books, and More More More said the Baby. My mom hated Go Dog Go, but I loved it, and I suffer through it to read to my kids. Also awesome: how Tom beat Captain Najork and his band of hired sportsmen.

        One last thing–I thought I invented the Seuss Flip! The one that really sucks is I’m not getting out of bed (or something). Posthumously published without his illustrations. Only bearable if you can flip through it and make a 5 minute experience only 30 seconds.

        December 6, 2011
      • Stop trying to take credit. I once flipped 24 pages at once. Beat that. Also, I feel that your having two boys who are older than mine will add value to my life. Thanks for the book tips–we are on it.

        December 6, 2011
  13. Jen Schottler #

    Love reading your blog! Can I tell you how much I HATE Doggies by Boynton? I have found myself barking my way through the pages too many times to count and you are right—Life is too short. I will be placing mine on a high shelf or under the couch.

    December 5, 2011
    • Jen, I’m glad you are taking action. I really hope I don’t get sued by Sandra Boynton.

      December 5, 2011
  14. Ryan White #

    First, Eric Carle. Slamming him is not blasphemy. “The Grouchy Lady Bug” blows.

    Next, “Good Night Gorilla.” Zookeeper allows all the animals out, they follow him home, pile into his room and he falls fast asleep and his wife has to take them back to the zoo? This is a bad zookeeper. Possibly the worst. And I expect that in the sequel, he’s a divorced alcoholic looking for work.

    “Barnyard Dance” is great, especially when you realize it can be read to the same rhythm as Tom Waits’ “Pasties and a G String.” (April was the one who figured that out.)

    December 5, 2011
    • Dude I LOVE “goodnight gorilla,” but agree that we’re talking about one incompetent zookeeper.

      December 5, 2011
    • Ryan, the world needs more acute observations such as these. A reading of Barnyard Dance will never be the same.

      December 5, 2011
  15. John Kroger #

    The good news is that the books get better as the kids get older. Isaiah, Michele and I spent six months reading Watership Down together last year, a few pages every night, and it was one of the great experiences of my life.

    We started reading to Isaiah every night when he was tiny, and we still read together every night, even though he is twelve. He loves getting into bed, snuggling in, and listening. But at some point, he will cut us off. So cherish it.

    December 5, 2011
    • Great advice, John. I will try to remember it the next time I am slogging through Dr. Seuss.

      December 5, 2011
  16. Christine, I LOVE Barnyard Dance. From the Boynton oeuvre, I enjoy Hippos Go Berserk as well. Thanks for reading!

    December 5, 2011
  17. I am seriously infatuated with you. Boynton does a great Barnyard Dance but I never got through the others. Seuss books I give the kids to look at by themselves when they can’t sleep. Wilbur was banned on patchworked sight. On your recommendation I would buy All the World sight unseen,

    December 5, 2011

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