Books Are Like Dominoes

May 25, 2006 @ 3:11 am | Filed under: ,

I have to make a concerted effort to read picture books to Beanie. We have entire bookcases full of good ones; I just don’t always remember to fit them into our day the way I did when her sisters were her age. Bean listens in on pretty much everything I’m reading to the older girls—I think it’s possible she is enjoying Great Expectations more than Jane is, at this point—but she deserves the chance to meet Frances the badger and Chrysanthemum the mouse every bit as much as Jane and Rose did. I just have to make a point of pulling out the books.

Today we had an overdue library book we hadn’t read yet, and I knew Scott would be making a library run later on. So I hollered for Beanie: quick, let’s read it before Daddy has to leave! We only got halfway through. And she was loving it, LOVING it. Scott said he’d try to renew it (late though it was), and sure enough, our obliging librarians let him bring it back home. Hooray. We have since read it twice more (all the way through, this time). She claims it is now her favorite book “and we need to renew it a hundred more times, Mommy.”

006443044801_aa_scmzzzzzzz_The book in question is Crictor by Tomi Ungerer, the tale of an elderly French- woman who adopts a very large boa constrictor. She feeds him milk from a bottle, teaches him his ABCs, and takes him to the park to play jump rope with the children. (He serves as the rope, of course.) Her tender treatment of the enormous reptile sparks an affection and protectiveness that comes in quite handy when a burglar breaks into her apartment one night. Beanie was mesmerized by the marvel of a Giant! Snake! Who loves you! And can spell! She pored over the comical black-white-and-of-course-green illustrations, simple yet rich in detail. This is a book with charm, not complexity, which can be very appealing to a child Bean’s age.

And it reminded Beanie and Rose of a number of other books they like. We had to go hunt them up, as many as we could find. The wild-animal-houseguest-foils-robbery-attempt plotline naturally called to mind Thomas McKean’s quirky book, Hooray for Grandma Jo, in which a nearsighted old woman mistakes an escaped zoo lion for her young nephew, Lloyd. (That’s some fur coat the boy has got!) Grandma is none too impressed with “Lloyd’s” manners—he growls and snarls and devours all the ice cream—but her ebullient nature (and a little dance music) eventually soothe his savage breast, and lady and lion are thick as thieves by the time the REAL thief breaks in. Like Crictor, Lloyd repays an old woman’s kindness with heroism. (And Grandma Jo finds her glasses in the end.)

Rose went up to look for this old favorite, but she couldn’t find it. Instead, she came back with a book I hadn’t seen before. (I still don’t know where it came from. Kind Friend Who Gave It to Us, Whoever You Are, thank you, and forgive me.) The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr is as matter-of-fact about its improbable storyline as Crictor is. A girl and her mummy (this is a British book, originally published in 1968) are just sitting down to tea when there’s a knock at the door. It turns out to be a “big, furry, stripy tiger.” (Injerjects Rose: “What did you expect? Polka dots?”) Naturally, Sophie’s mother invites him to tea, and he goodnaturedly eats up everything in the house before departing with an amiable “I’d better go now.” Sophie and her parents are forced to go out to a cafe for supper, and the next day they wisely stock up on tiger food in case the beast ever returns. This is not a sophisticated book; it reads like a spur-of-the-moment bedtime story—exactly the kind of story a preschooler finds immensely reassuring and satisfying. It’s funny, farfetched, and tidy, all in one nice furry, stripy package: a stuffed-animal version of a picture book.

The drawing of Sophie’s mummy staring at the ransacked kitchen in the tiger’s aftermath reminded both my girls of—what else—If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. This is one of those books which has become so familiar and has inspired so many spinoffs that it is sometimes easy to forget what a perfect picture book it is. Felicia Bond is one of my favorite illustrators; her drawings are so crisp and sunny. And Laura Numeroff’s text hits every note just right. I always secretly enjoy the boy’s exhaustion at the end of the book. You just know he has run his mother through the same kind of wringer a thousand times.

Once we started looking for connections between Crictor and other books, the girls were finding them everywhere. Reptile moves into city apartment: Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. Relative sends reptile as gift: Zack’s Alligator, an I Can Read by Shirley Mozelle, about a boy whose uncle (I think; I couldn’t find it on the shelf today) send him an alligator keychain which, when soaked in water, swells into a real live alligator with a toothy grin. That book brought to mind Anne Mazer’s lyrical The Salamander Room, a boy’s daydream of the home he’ll make for the salamander he brought home, if only mom will let him: it’s a sylvan bedroom makeover, with the sky for a roof and “moss like little green stars” for a carpet. “Is it just a dream?” Bean asked this afternoon, near the end of the book. She didn’t wait for an answer. “No, I think it’s real. Yes.” She nodded, her furrowed brow smoothing. “Yes. It’s really real.”

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6 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Beth says:

    Crictor was one of my absolute fovrites when I was little, we still have my old battered copy and my boys have all loved it. And I, too, sometimes forget to pull out the picture books for my four year old …

  2. Maria says:

    I love. love. love how books books make connections like that. It is so fun. Books are like dominoes, how true!

  3. Angela, Mother Crone says:

    I love the bonding time picture books provide, and have recently started getting some newer ones out to share with even my 11yr old. We use them for her to practice reading aloud to me, with lots of inflection and voices. It is nice to continue using books as a shared activity!

  4. Becky says:

    Tell me about the 5yo getting shorted on picture books, especially the fun fiction ones lol. Of course, this is the same child with the smallest baby book….

  5. Kathryn says:

    The Tiger That Came To Tea was my now 11yo’s absolutely favourite book as a 2yo. I think we can both still quote it in large chunks! We also loved her books about Mog the cat. Incidentally, the author is the same Judith Kerr who wrote a trilogy about her experiences as a Jewish refugee during World War II (beginning with When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit).

  6. mamasquirrel says:

    My oldest also liked The Tiger Who Came to Tea when she was two; we found it recommended in Dorothy Butler’s Babies Need Books. Re Crictor: oldest as a toddler was never really clear about those European-looking “seven dwarfs”–she kept forgetting and calling them the “seven little Santas.”