Monday, April 7, 2008

Children's Lit Love

Once upon a time, I was a freshman majoring in Social Work at BYU.

Why social work?

I don't really know.

The truth is, ever since first grade, all I wanted to be was a school teacher. I played school every day and had little neighborhood schools all summer long. I babysat and taught nursery school and knew all about fairy tales and fingerplays.

But declaring Elementary Ed as your major at BYU is the equivalent of changing your name to Jane Doe. Everyone at BYU is an Elementary Ed major. It was just too humiliating. I couldn't bring myself to join the permed and brainless masses.

And so I suffered through Anthropology 110 and Statistics 200 and looked forward to my bright future as a parole officer.

But at least I had my pride.

A girl who lived down the hall had followed the herd down to the McKay Education Building and joined the El Ed cult. She was raising fruit flies in a test tube and learning to decorate bulletin boards. Whatever.

I mean...didn't she know that there were only, like, three guys TOTAL in the whole program? Not that I was obsessed with guys or anything...but still. Elementary Education? No, thank you. I had brain and I was gonna use it.

And then, I heard about Children's Lit.

Wait. What? You mean, I could actually get college credit for reading Superfudge? Charlotte's Web? The Wizard of Oz?

I changed my major the very next day. (And got a new perm, too...)

Children's literature is my love language. I was raised by two bookworms who gave me an early taste for beautiful illustrations and the magic of the written word. Bookstores and libraries fill me with inexplicable joy. And it is a very rare night when my children don't get a bedtime story.

I have so many favorite books and authors. I want to celebrate them all. Because in this world full of cynics and sleaze, is there anything more pure and noble than creating lovely prose and pictures for little people?

Here are the first in my list of favorites:

Do you know Robert McCloskey brought baby ducklings into his bathtub so he could draw them to perfection for Make Way for Ducklings? His illustrations are true works of art. And the stories are timeless. I just got Blueberries for the twins and they love it as much as my older kids, who loved it as much as their mom. Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk!

Who doesn't love Tomie de Paola? His artwork is deceptively simple and every story is unique. My favorite is his autobiographical Art Lesson. (And Strega Nona is pretty fun, too!)

Charming. Witty. Wise. And, so, so clever! I think Kevin Henkes is a genius. It amazes me that he can draw and write with such sweet, gentle humor. Growing up with an unusual name, I feel a natural connection with Chrysanthemum, but if you haven't met Lilly, Wendell, or Sheila really should introduce yourself.

Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see Eric Carle looking at me! What would kindergarten teachers do without Eric Carle? His books teach the days of the week, the months of the year, the colors of the rainbow and all the world's endangered species! And he reminds us that ladybugs aren't always female and that sometimes they can be very grouchy. Universal truths.Eve Bunting doesn't illustrate, but her writing paints such beautiful pictures. I still cannot read The Wednesday Surprise without crying. So tender. So sweet. If I could be a children's writer, this is the kind of story I would want to write.

Let's hear it for the people who make storytime a celebration!

Which storybooks can you read over and over and over?


Bridget said...

Thanks for all the book reviews. I too LOVE Kevin Henkes. I think we have all his books. Lily's Purple Plastic Purse is one of my all time favs. We actually went to see a play of it in Portland.

One of my favorite smells is the smell of a bookstore. Nothing like it. Maybe we can roam the BYU Bookstore together next month.

Wendy said...

OK, I was part of the permed and brainless masses, probably the exact years you were. (I'm waiting patiently for the perm to come back BTW).

I am with you. I LOVE children's lit. Do you remember your professor by chance? I agree that Kevin Henkes and Eric Carle are wonderful! I would also add to that list Bill Peet, Maurice Sendak, Mercer Mayer, and Chris Van Allsburg. Great post!

The MomBabe said...

ooh, I LOVE children's lit.

Some of my favs:

It's Time for Bed by Mem Fox

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

JamberryBruce Degan

If you give a mouse a cookie Laura Joffe Numeroff

and Olivia by Ian Falconer

Lindsey said...

Maurice Sendak! I am glad to see so many others concur.. but CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE! Has to be close to my all time FAVORITE!

amy said...

children's lit! what a neat major. if angels went to college, they would totally be children's lit majors. is it possible to be mean or cold and be a children's lit major? my favorites were

I'm In Charge of Celebrations
Rain Babies
The Napping House
and If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, still sticks with me today. Great life lesson.

Ilene said...

Oh, I was a Humanities major but I still made sure I took the Children's Lit class. That was so fun. I also took Art for the Elementary Ed teacher which was also a really fun course.

Sure there were no guys in the El Ed program but they had yearly dances with the Engineering majors. I was in a girl-filled major and we never got such perks.

aric & jess said...

I started collecting children's books when I was 18 going to BYU. I ended up transfering to UVSC and majoring in Early Childhood where I got to take Children's Lit I and Children's Lit II. We hardly go to the library because I think I have about the same selection our little library has. I'm such a sucker for the book orders...

The first book in my collection is still one of my favorites I Love You as Much by Laura Krauss Melmed

Other favorites:
The pigeon books by Mo Willems

The Olivia books by Ian Falconer

Llama llama red pajama by Anna Dewdney

My all time favorite books come from Audrey and Don Woods I think I own all of them. I love the illustrations and the cute stories.

TravelinOma said...

When I was in 3rd grade my teacher read us all the Wizard of Oz books. I can still remember loving The Patchwork Girl.

Elementary Ed is a fabulous major! I majored in German, and while it helped me find a husband, it wasn't very useful in my motherhood career.

diane said...

The Velveteen Rabbit is a favorite of mine. Can we see a picture of the perm?

Paige said...

I confess, I read as few of these stories as possible because my kids drive me crazy. Mostly, I like all picture books that are short and don't have a lot of words.

And now i'm going to Motherhood Hell.

Marci said...

Children's Lit was the BEST! Thanks for bringing back the BYU El Ed memories - and I too was a little embarassed to finally delcare my major. Your post made me smile, and reminisce, and smile some more.

Rochelleht said...

We love Ezra Jack Keats, Mo Willems, and all Madeleine books here.

Last night, I dreamt that you came and stayed with me on your way to Blogapalooza.

gab said...

Wendy...I had Gus Clark. Ilene...I can't believe you VOLUNTARILY took that Art 310. It still gives me nightmares! (But I cannot bring myself to throw away that ridiculous has been moved cross-country and sat in at least 10 different basements.)
Mom...German was helpful in picking weird names for your kids. Maybe, if you had taken children's lit, you would've named me Chrysanthemum!
Rochelle...I wish!

calibosmom said...

Our library is our second home. I told Phyllis (childrens librarian), about a book I had as a child and she went right to the shelf and found it for me, then a few months later, she suprised me with a copy of my own that she found at a book sale. Miss Suzy by Miriam Young-love it! We are a Shel Silverstein family.I know its not literature but it sure makes us laugh!

Christie said...

I'd have to add our family favorites - everything by Robert Munsch and David Shannon. Childrens lit is the best. I love kids books.

Liz :) said...

Oh! Oh! oh! I thought I was the only one! I too am addicted to children's books, don't get me wrong I read all the "grown-up" books too but since I was little I loved all the Junie B. Jones and Super Fuge type books, when I got the Scholastic book order from school I looked at all the books with the "award winning author" ribbon on them first. Then my mom made me dwindle down my list from 80 books to 4 or 5 and I was sooo sad. Ironically my middle child who is a splitting image of me shares this love for books. She brought home a book order form, the same ones I used when I was little and she said today I went through them and only want 77 books. I said how about making it a list of 7 and she said "WHAT?!?" like I had broken her heart. So we still dwindled down the list but she always feels much better when I get a "set" of books. :)

martha corinna said...

Oh, I love children's lit. too. I used to work at a library in high school and my very fist assignment was to organize the children's section and the juvenile section (the children's section is perpetually a nasty mess). As I sat there alphabetizing all of the misplaced books, I quickly fell in love with the colorful, unique art, and the equally colorful characters.

Annie said...

Amen, Gabi! I am also your Children's Lit soulmate. I didn't major in it (I did English) but I do have a passion for it. My friend here just got into the Children's Lit master's degree at Simmons and I am SO JEALOUS but I have promised my husband. No more degrees.

As a child, I loved the Richard Scarry books and anything illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa. Love Henkes, Sendak (Chicken Soup with Rice, Pierre "I don't care"), Madeleine, Miss Rumphius. My kids are getting past the picture books but I still see them taking a tour through the familiar old friend books.

By the way, Gus Clark was my mom's beloved elementary teacher (or maybe it was his dad?) & my mom's aunt teaches Child Lit at BYU now. Small world!

andrea said...

i'm with you girl. at least at USU, you were a REBEL if you majored in ElEd. bunch a' liberal social workers up there...

we love roald dahl. the guy is a nut! tomie is one of our faves too. my favorite illustrator is felicia bond. you and i should form a book club. i have time to read childrens books. i don't have time to read much else. we can get the reading done, have lunch, discuss how clever and meaningful things were, and then feel good about ourselves. :O)

reading is one thing i can get my kids to do together without fighting. needless to say, we have a lot of books in our house. a lot.

Jessica said...

I was so hoping for a post like this from someone. I LOVE new children's book recommendations. Am heading to my library website right now.

And did you ever check out that "17 things I'm not allowed to do anymore?" Hilarious and awesome illustratons.

Best ever: Little house.

Also, (man, I'm going on and on) I got the bunny book you recommended for Easter and my kids were spellbound.

Holly said...

Great choices! I love Patricia Polocco and Jan Brett. Children's picture books are always in style!

Kenny, Linsey, Caleb and Isaac said...

I used to be all about adolescent lit and then I had kids and I love discovering "new to me" children's books. Thanks for the recommendations!

Anonymous said...

I love bedtime stories... even now a days, the new ones... I love me, etc stories. Makes them proud of thierselves and are so fun to read.

Thank you!!!

crystal said...

I love Blueberries for Sal! And yes--Kevin Henkes certainly IS a genius. (My sis-in-law had 2 names she was deciding between for her last baby: Owen or Wilson. And she hadn't ever read Kevin Henkes. Funny.)

I digress. Have you ever read the book a few yrs ago called Library Lion? My new fav.

Jenibelle said...

I'm smarter than I look, I took Business classes, lots and lots and lots of cute guys!!!

I too love, love Crysanthemum! I read every Wizard of Oz book, every Anne of Green Gables book twice, every Nancy Drew book even! Plus I read every Biography in the Fairbanks Elementary School library. Those cold, dark, long winters were good for something!!!

Jenibelle said...

And Laura Ingalls Wilder...ahh...always wanted to be a pioneer girl.

I paid Lauren $50 to read Anne of Green Gables. She never finished it. Rotten child.

Marci said...

Gus Clark! I have been trying to remember his name all day! I loved the man - as quirky as he was. And I too, have that ridiculous Art 310 portfolio in my basement. I may ask to be buried with it. I got an A+! I am still weirdly attached to it. It may come in handy someday. :)

Your blog is inspiring me to read more. I just need to make the time for it! I miss it! Thanks for your posts on the great books you love.

Lauren said...

My kids love the Mercer Mayer books and the books by Stan and Jan Berenstain...I love reading them to them, because it affords me the one and only way that they think I am cool...well, I use the term, "cool" loosely...I think it woudl be better stated to say that they love it when I make the little fuzzy rodent looking creatures from the Mercer Mayer books talk with little accents.

I loved this whole post! I loved being an Elementary Education major...but there were a ton of us...even in the liberal arts university I attended in are guys! I laughed at the, "(And got a new perm, too) I love your writing!

Hollyween said...

I love the book reviews. And I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It's one of Levi's faves and I like it because it's so short. Nice, huh?

Celia Fae said...

I like the Ant and Bee books, but I don't think they are made anymore. Moreover, I wish wish wish I would have majored in El Ed but I just couldn't swallow my pride. Now I pay the price.

cyndy said...

What a GREAT list. I love Eric Carle, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar is my favorite children's book EVER. I'm a big Tomie fan too. I actually MET the guy who wrote "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" and got an autographed copy of one of his books. You'd have thought I was meeting a movie star!
And let's not leave Dr Seuss out of this list....

Amy Jorgensen said...

We used the Eric Carle books with my handicapped daughter to teach her days of the week, colors, and all the other things you said. She can recite by heart almost all of "The Very Hungry Catapillar". A miracle. I LOVE children's books, and when we can finally build a house, I will have a room filled with comfy chairs, good lighting and an entire library of books ranging from board books (no flaps or noises) all the way up to the classics of all time. I just introduced my 12 year old to Jane Austen...yummy. Thanks for the list of new/old favorites.

Emy5 said...

I like Crysanthemum, only the snobby girl is named Victoria, and my Victoria feels bad when I read it! Except it all comes out right in the end. Eric Carle and Tomie de Paula are favourites here too.

Pineapple Princess said...

I wish I would have taken Children's lit in college but I didn't know then how much I would love children's picture books now.

My favorites are on my side bar. I love clever and quirky stuff.

I have tried to get several children's books published but it is a tough market to break into. Once my little guy is in school, I may try again.

Great book review and post.

Jen said...

I too had a struggle with joining the el ed masses at BYU. I think I tried everything from business to psychology before I finally decided it would be ok to be a teacher.

And children's lit--never a better class! I loved my professor, Michael Tunnell. I have always loved books, but he made them come even more alive for me, which was pretty amazing. He even made me want to be on a Newbery committee! It has been so wonderful to pass along my love of reading to my children.

Kevin Henkes? Love him. Kitten's First Full Moon is a favorite at our house right now.

Wendy said...

Gus Clark! Yes, that's him. Loved him! I think he may be the only professor I remember in all my college days. Oh no, I remember I had Michael Wilcox for religion.

april said...

just discovered your blog and am thus late on this discussion, but still couldn't resist commenting. yes, kevin henkes (owen is my fave), dePaola (anyone own his beautiful nativity pop-up book?), sendak, carle, mo williams, mayer, brett, etc... are all faves around here. i own make way for ducklings but haven't read the blueberry one yet; thanks for the suggestion. goodnight moon is the only classic that i think got missed here. oh, and there's dr. suess and chicka, chicka boom boom. oh, the list never ends, does it??

if you are ever in the northeast, go to "The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art" in Amherst, Mass. it's amazing and has a gallery of original illustrations from various artists, a craft room for kids to make a project and a great children's library.

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