Thursday, March 19, 2009

See you on the dark side, Babar

The great response to the children's book post from the other day was encouraging. I was thrilled to hear that many of you shared my favorites plus had new ones to recommend.

It's easy to have fun reading favorites, but what about when your child comes to you with one of the titles you dread? You know, the book you meant to hide in the closet (thanks for the tip, E . . . ), the one you try to subtly push under the bed with your toe so that your child does not notice it at bedtime, the one that makes you feel bone weary just imagining reading it one more time, the one that takes SO DARN LONG to get through, or the one that requires more "condensing" or "censoring" than you feel right or good about . . .

For me, that book is Babar. I'm pretty sure scholars have already had a field day with the large elephant, but I will just give you an overview of my problems with the book . . .

1. It is long. Not terribly, terribly long, but longer than I prefer for before bedtime when you know that it is only one of six or seven books to be read.

2. It features death. I'll concede that when the king of the elephants dies of eating a "bad mushroom," one could almost be amused, but one's child is just confused. Worse than that, however, is the fact that Babar's mother is SHOT BY HUNTERS on the SECOND page of the book. Though I consider myself anti-censorship to the core, I just can't help glazing over this scene for the Bub by mentioning that the hunters "hurt" Babar's mom.

3. Babar is not that likable. He is greedy and materialistic. His greatest pleasures are shopping for and admiring himself in his new clothes and driving the rich old lady's red convertible.* I suspect he is using the rich old lady for the loot and the nice bathtub, though it is nice of him to do exercises with her in the morning.

4. The rich old lady might also be using Babar. After all, she dresses him up, has him tutored, and then shows off her smarty-pants elephant at dinner parties like he's a trick pony.

5. Babar doesn't keep it real. When he sees his cousins, Arthur and Celeste, in the city, he immediately gets them all dolled up in new clothes (and takes them to get cakes to eat), as if he would be ashamed to be seen with them without the clothes. When Babar returns to the forest and is offered the opportunity (based on, it seems, his new clothes, human learning, and fancy red car) to replace the king (who died of the bad mushroom), he accepts on the condition that he first be allowed to travel to the city to BUY WEDDING CLOTHES. Never mind your people are mourning their king and in need of a leader--first things first, get another green suit.

6. Babar is buying wedding clothes because he is marrying his COUSIN Celeste.

I know there are more Babar books, and I read one of them that belonged to my friends' kids. In it, one of Babar and Celeste's three children hits another in the head WITH A SHOVEL. I guess that is keeping it real in another way.

While Babar is the book I always mean to hide, but can never quite bring myself to (again, it's something about not wanting to censor literature for Bub, I guess), there are also others I don't love to read, especially at bedtime when my patience is waning. Some of the seek-and-find books can get tedious, especially the Cars one. I am also not a huge fan of the books with labeled pictures of dinosaurs, household objects, and vehicles. One that we have has a two-page spread of farm vehicles that features like eight different kind of tractors. As my friend E. . . and I discussed, books with multiple flaps per page can also get old.

So, there it is, I do love reading to my kids, but I love reading some books more than I do others.

What about you? Any books you wish to hide or have hidden? Any books you demanded repeatedly as a child that your parents might have wanted to kick under the bed? Entertain us please.

*Babar also enjoys pastry shops, but I'm not going to hold that against him.


cake said...

i just realized that i forgot about a library book that i shoved under cosmo's bed for just this reason! _if i had a robot_.
we read it once, and while i sort of liked the illustrations, it was sending messages about being bad, and being good, rewards and punishments etc. etc., and i just couldn't bear to read it one more time. i need to just sneak it into my bag, and get it back to the library.

i don't know barbar, and thanks to you i will avoid it. i found out that some of those celebrated william steig books can be extremely frightening for the little ones. i too, struggle with censorship.

i forgot to mention another favorite, which has stood the test of time for all of us: _frog and toad_. all of them. they are wonderful stories about a strange friendship.

this is such a rich topic, MEP. i may have to do a post of my own about children's lit. i have way to much to say about it for this comment box.

cake said...

one way that you can have some fun reading books you hate is by reading them in funny ways, or making jokes that only adults will get.

i can remember carl reading a board book of photos of babies (when cosmo was way past that stage), and making up his own words for the captions, and just cracking me up beyond control.

the time for that kind of "inside adult humor" may be coming to an end though. i'm afraid cosmo's way to keen now, at the ripe age of 3 and one quarter years old.

E... said...

As I told you, the Pokey Little Puppy gets "lost" at our house quite a lot. I don't have objections to any of its messages, and really like the illustrations, but it is SO darn long, and REPETITIVE. Over the hill up the green grass, down the blah blah blah...and it happens at least four times! I also just hid Biscuit's Christmas, which is also a fine book, but I was really tired of all the woofing. (and you couldn't skip it, b/c that's N's favorite part.)
I always groan when he wants to read "Busy Town" by Richard Scarry, but can usually just hit the high points without a lot of drama.
I don't always do a good job of reading over books while we're at the library, and have come home with some real doozies that looked good on the surface. One was a book about a zoo that was trying to make a statement about how humans are the real animals -- apparently highly critically praised, but since we're big fans of the zoo in our family, I didn't have it in me to try to explain it. Also, O picked one about superheroes for every letter of the alphabet, and "V" was I'm not kidding: "Vomit Girl." Illustration and everything. Weird. O. was like "why is she spitting stuff out of her mouth?" and wouldn't let it go. Back in the library bag for that one as well.

Amy said...

I hate those Look and Find books. Unfortunately, I think we own them all (Wonder Pets, Dora, Pooh, Disney-Pixar, Disney Princess, Elmo, et al)and at least one of them makes it into the nightly rotation. Lately "Goodnight Gorilla" is on my "not favorite" list because Annika seems obsessed with where the keys are on pages they aren't drawn in (very annoying!).

CaraBee said...

I thought it was BaRbar until I was about 12 years old. I don't know if I just renamed him or my mom said it wrong (a real possibility). I think I might have even gotten into a minor scuffle in school about it. I don't remember all of that negative stuff. I have certainly glossed over my memories of Barbar. I may have to skip that one when it comes time to read to Sophie.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the books that require the child to press a button at certain cues in the book. We have several Thomas books and Little Einstein books that are this way and I dread when they are chosen.

Anonymous said...

Any book that is based on a TV show or whose main characters are from TV shows! They are seriously PAINFUL to me, as are books that are movies...Toy Story, 101 Dalmations, you know what I am talking about! Oh yeah...although I LOVED the Dr. Seuss books as a kid and use them in my classroom because they are so repetetive and teach onset/rime so well (and 1st graders still love them) they are SOOO long to read at night when I can barely keep my eyes open anyway! When a Dr. Seuss book is picked...we only read one book instead of the standard two! Putting that is writing makes me sound like an awful mom... L

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