When I was a kid, we had a personal library so vast that it even surprises me to this day when surveying it. Maybe it’s because I lived in a town so small that making your own entertainment was the only option. Maybe it’s because I had earned myself the nickname of “Couch-potato Lou” at a very early age and my parents wanted to stimulate my brain further than Ren & Stimpy could alone achieve. Reasons don’t matter, though. “We had a library of children’s books and it was extensive” is quite enough backstory.
It has been brought to my attention in my adult years, however, that, extensive though our collection may have been, my sister favored one book, and hard. It was called “Hello Gnu, How Do You Do” by Barbara Shook Hazen and I remember being decidedly unimpressed. My sister, Addie, however, apparently thought it the single most riveting book in history and would not settle for anything less than one reading per night. I think reading any book under a beloved child’s consistent insistence would be maddening; according to my father, though, the true reason he hated this book was because Gnu, reportedly, was a goody-goody, a suck up, a know-it-all, and a royal pain in the ass (direct quote; sorry, Mama). This was one of those “Here’s a fun, sneaky way to teach your child manners” books, so Gnu was supposed to be the mild-tempered, robot-like animal child that every parent dreams of having, and was the suck up teacher’s pet that gets stuffed in lockers for all us average kids. Gnu was clearly all too hatable, but so many children’s books are trying so very hard to teach lessons in about 10 pages of sing-song morals, that any attempt at being charming or tolerable for the parents is suffocated.
This is why I applaud the multitude of children’s literature authors who are really trying to make the reading experience enjoyable for parents, too. It isn’t hard! We’re older, yes, but adults are still simple creatures who love a good fart joke. I can still remember the books that my parents loved to read with me; “Martha Speaks” by Susan Meddaugh was about a dog that eats Alphabet soup and starts saying EXACTLY the things I expect my spazzy dog would say.
“Go Dog. Go!” by P.D. Eastman contained a dog that was very hard to please in terms of lady-dog headwear, which was unexplainably funny. That dog did NOT sugarcoat his distaste for hideous hats. For some reason, that particular story has stuck with me and my parents, and 20+ years later we still quote “I like that party hat” whenever anyone is wearing anything remotely resembling a hat. And of course, The “Where’s Waldo” books never fail to entertain. Go ahead, charge your children with the task of finding Waldo, but in the meantime, enjoy the multitude of people plummeting to their deaths, being stabbed in the butt, ladies tops are being pulled off, someone’s privates are being trampled, etc. Waldo never ceases to be amongst a really varied and eclectic crowd. Waldo is for the kids; Waldo’s freak show surroundings are for the parents.
No, I’m not a parent, but I do babysit three kids under the age of 6 who love a good book about Ninja Turtles or something all but new to me called the “Mine-o-Saur.” Manners will be called into question on a nightly basis and very strictly righted. Sometimes, they pick crappy books and I suffer through them, but I now can truly appreciate what my parents endured and why they really loved it when I picked a parent-friendly book.
What about you? Are there books you hate to read to your kids/nieces/nephews/neighbors/abductees? Do you remember the books you used to hate? Let us know!