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.