The bizarre world of children’s books
One of the benefits of my son becoming a better reader, and starting to move beyond shorter illustrated stories for bedtime, is I get to read him books I find more enjoyable. I’m looking forward to not reading some of the same things for the 50th time and if I never see another Fancy Nancy book it will be fine by me. A downside, however, it’s not always me doing the bedtime reading so I may come in and out of longer books at random points.
This is an odd and sometimes entertaining way to enjoy a story. A pretty common feature of early chapter books is that they move incredibly fast, so missing just one night can lead to several missed plot points. It took multiple Magic Tree House books before I figured out how in the world the kids kept getting teleported to strange lands, and I’m still not sure about the strange lady hiding in the woods coercing children to do her bidding.
Sometime this fall my mother-in-law sent him Maniac Magee, a kids book published in 1990 by Jerry Spinelli. At risk of recreating a fifth-grade book report, I’ll sum it up as a book that takes an interesting approach to educating kids about racism and inequality. I’d never heard of it, but won a bunch of children’s book awards so we started reading it without much thought. Pretty much immediately, both parents die and the main character is orphaned; perfect stuff to read a six-year-old before bed.
I come in and out of the story at various points and am usually a little lost and occasionally somewhat concerned by themes that might be a little much for a first-grader. Though mostly Maniac Magee seems like an age-appropriate adventure story that teaches a few lessons along the way.
The other night when I picked it up I was a little surprised to learn little Maniac Magee had moved into what I believe is a storage shed with an older man who works as a caretaker at the zoo. Never before has 1990 seemed so quaint and long ago.
About the time I got over the fact that the kid was living with this strange man in a storage shed, the man abruptly dies, of course right at the end of the last chapter I planned to read that night. Really great bedtime reading material.
This was all happening about the time my son’s school was celebrating the 101st day of school. This year his class put 101 black dots on shirts and watched 101 Dalmatians. 101 Dalmatians must have been one of those kid’s movies I somehow missed as a child, so you can understand my alarm when my son began asking about making coats out of dogs. Thankfully, he found the idea to be as cruel as I did and was not measuring up our 95 pound dog Shelby to determine how many coats he could get out of her.
Things sure seem to be moving fast in our house. We’re at a stage of rapid development with both kids currently discovering new things every day. I know it is good for them to grow and be exposed to the world (and villians), but can we maybe hold off on shacking up with strange men and skinning puppies for just a few more years?