Monday, January 11, 2010

Once upon a time

I used to think there was an art to writing children's books. I figured you had to a be trained in child psychology or education and have a crystal ball into the psyche of children before you could craft a book that would engage a kid. After reading god only knows how many bedtime stories to my daughter over the past three years, I am beginning to think that a majority of toddler books are authored by Washoe the Chimp.

My wife, a teacher with a master's degree in education, rolls her eyes when I complain about the books I have to read to my three-year old daughter.

"There's no plot development," I protest. "The characters are weak and unbelieveable."

"A three-year old doesn't understand plot," she explains. "The books just need to spark their imagination and hold there attention."

"What about my attention, " I ask.

"It isn't about you," she reminds me.

I grumble and read, wishing they'd come out with children's books that could entertain an adult as well as a child. Oh, I can tolerate Dr. Suess. At least they have some clever rhymes. And they have been around since I was a kid, so there is a bit of nostalgia in play when I read about Sam I am and Green Eggs and Ham.

But more often than not, my daughter doesn't want me to read Dr. Suess. She wants me to read one of the Disney Princess books which are basically Cliff Note versions of the Disney versions of classic fairy tales. And the marketing professional in me knows, just knows that these books are cranked out as part of a merchandizing effort to tap that multi-million dollar obsession toddler girls seem to have for the Disney Princesses.

I know all of the Disney Princesses by heart: Snow White, the 40s classic princess; Aurora, the 50s version of Sleeping Beauty who goes into the Fairy Godmother Witness protection program under the name of Briar Rose to protect her from the evil dark fairy Maleficent; Belle of Beauty and the Beast; Ariel, the Little Mermaid princess (and Disney's only cross-species Princess); Arabic Princess Jasmine from Aladdin; Pocahontas, the Native American princess; Mulan, the Chinese princess and now Princess Tiana, Disney's first Black princess. My daughter has princess outfits, princess books, princess, princess pajamas and princess sheets. I sometimes don't know whether I'm putting my daughter to bed or Snow White, Belle, Jasmine or Ariel.

As mind numbing as most of the Disney Princess books are, at least they are fairly short. If I have to read a book over and over a hundred or so times, I prefer it doesn't have more than one line per page. I dread it when my daughter asks me to read a Curious George book. Those suckers drone on forever. And talk about mundane plots, Curious George adventures basically consist of spilling things, knocking things down and unwrapping things. And does it make me a bad person to wish that Curious George would be turned over to the zoo for biting the man with the yellow hat and kick the bucket in an unfortunate accident in the boa constrictor exhibit? And why does the man in the yellow hat always wear that stupid yellow hat? Hasn't anyone told him how stupid he looks? He lives in New York City for Christ's sake. You would think he would be hip to fashion.

But I digress.

Sometimes I try and amuse myself by turning storytime into a dramatic reading exercise and alter the voices. Unfortunately my daughter is much to young to appreciate that I do a pretty darned good impression of Richard Burton and Winston Churchell. She also doesn't have a high level of tolerance for change. If I get too carried away with my one-man stage productions of Socks for Supper or Mr. Dobb's Diner, she'll put her hand over my mouth and say, "Daddy, that's not the way it sounds."

Did I mention I have grown to despise Beatrix Potter's book Peter Rabbit? It violates my more than one line per page rule and has real stupid plot. A rabbit gets into a garden and eats vegetables. News at 11. Big woop. I'm tempted to change the ending so Mr. MacGregger catches the rodent and cooks up some nice Hassenfeffer.

I'm going to hell aren't I?


R. said...

With the exception of Peter Pan I refuse to read Disney books to my daughter.

Sandra Boynton on the other hand is just spiffy - though our daughter seems to be losing interest in them for now.

K. has been getting our daughter books from the library so we only have to read the same ones to her everyday for a week or two.

When I read to my daughter the book is upside down from my perspective. When I finally get a chance to read the book right side up it's like I'm reading a whole new book!

Time said...

I love the Sandra Boynton books. But EM only rarely lets me read them to her anymore. We get books from the library, too, but EM, as most children, take comfort in routine.

Good for you for mastering the art of reading upside down!