Books You Should(not) Read Aloud to Your Children

Just in time for the all-American Start of Summer (enshrined by barbecue, not equinox), Buzzfeed has your Parental-Guilt-Trip-slash-Book-Geek-Nostalgia fix – 38 Perfect Books to Read Aloud With Kids. Some of their picks will make your nerdish heart soar. Hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Claudia! Duck into Diagon Alley with Harry! Watch Stellaluna settle that nature-or-nurture debate!

Lists like these are as close as you’ll get to an Enshrined Official Canon of Childhood Books. Yeah, we all felt super cultured when we decoded The Little Prince in French sophomore year, and rotted out brains on that twee version that aired on Nickelodeon, sometime between Pinwheel and Belle and Sebastian (whichwasashowbeforeitwasabanddammitpeople!). And yes, I think my mom would have rather eaten glass shards than read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie one more time, because it was that awesome. But much of that list will not see the light of day in the Manic Pixie Dream House, y’all. Seriously. My children can learn to function in a rational society without Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

With any literary canon, or list, or read/toss screed, or freaking People Magazine’s Picks and Pans, there’s some items no one can quibble with. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 saw me through some serious second-grade shit, like sibling rivalry and desperately tweaking out for Burger King when mom is cookin’ up Kraft Mac and Cheese again. I loved Where the Wild Things Are so much I sewed up a wolf suit for myself one Halloween*, and spent a good deal of time huffing moth balls while I plumbed my Mom-Mom’s closet for Narnia. The other day, I bribed Manic Pixie Boy with the promise of flying motorcycles so he’d sit still for Harry Potter. I choked up hard just reading “Chapter One – The Boy Who Lived”. Not the whole thing. The title. Because there’s something about sitting a tiny boy down and starting at the beginning of the beginning and knowing that this wondrous baby on your lap has never been to Hogwarts, and doesn’t know Snape is the goodest of good guys, and that love can save the world and Sirius Black is a hero and in the end even Draco gets saved, and you get to see him experience it, flying dragons and Hagrid and instant swamps and all. Yes, I’m crying again. Shut up. It’s Hogwarts.

Anyway. The list. Some of it is straight book-porn no one can contest. But other than the Books That Must Be Listed, some is simply baffling, books our parents read to us that we pick up to read to our kids, get two pages in, and wonder Why the hell is this still in print, much less marketed to children?

No parent wants to read Chika Chicka Boom Boom. It’s possibly as infectious as that new Daft Punk single and seriously annoying. Also, it teaches you not to sneak out or you’ll fall out of a tree. Or something. When it comes to alphabet books. Dr. Seuss’s ABC – tragically omitted – is much more insidiously gratifying. X doesn’t need a bandaid. He comes in useful for “spelling axe and extra fox,” complete with toothy grin. He’s going to kill the hell out of Nixie Knox.

Speaking of Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham? Oh, The Places You’ll Go? Clearly, these people don’t have kids, because let me make it explicit: no parent wants to read something eleventy bajillion pages long. It’s bedtime. I’m not slogging through Sam-I-Am when Max manages to sail all the way to the Wild Things and back in fifteen one-sentence pages. Anyway, if you’re desperate for some Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish is where it’s at. Delightfully subversive and quirky, with weirdly creepy illustrations, One Fish is the most quirky and absurd of Seuss’s oeuvre:

Look what we found in the park, in the dark.

We will take him home. We will call him Clark.

He will live at our house. He will grow and grow.

Will our mother like this? We don’t know.

And we don’t care, either.

As for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Etc. Etc. – nope. Bear and I each separately decided to toss it after one read, because Alexander and the Nietzche-esque Burden of Living is basically just  a lengthy diatribe about how life blows and no one gives a flying f^&k. Not even mom cares if you hate your railroad train pajamas, kid, so suck it up and abandon all hope, ye who enter here, even if you travel someplace far, far away, maybe someplace sunny and warm, maybe even Australia. Heavy stuff when you’re three. In retrospect, I think I can blame this book for a few therapy sessions, pen-and-ink drawings, eco-conscious VW Bug and all.

But even Alexander and the Misery Parade has nothing on the soul-destroying-est book of all time: The Giving Tree. Or, as I like to call it, The Tree Who Makes You Feel Like the Worst Person Ever Because You Probably Are, So Why Don’t You Just Find A Handy Vine and Hang Yourself From Its Bountiful Branches Right Now. Clearly the parents are the tree, and the little boy is their kid, and they give and give and give and give and get nothing back until their kids are old and they’re dead and they’re happy but not really.

Maybe I’m projecting.

Anyway, half the fun of lists is arguing about them. So your kids don’t need The Giving Tree  or Chika Chika Boom Boom  or even Where the Wild Things Are, if you’re a horrible parent who probably hates rainbows and bunnies and sunshine and love. A canon is a canon, and a list is a list, and you’ll hate some and adore some and feel indifferent about others – I can never get into Knufflebunny – and that’s okay. I think.

But not really.


*yes, I was 20, but in my defense I didn’t have a fake ID, and I lived in a residential college, where one dude was totally out of the closet as a furry and wore a pink bunny costume to prove it, so taking bong hits in a wolf suit was a fairly acceptable life choice.


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