What Makes a Book Great?
I’m talking about children’s books. Last night Samuel wanted me to read Moog-Moog, Space Barber to him. I think that book is near the bottom of my list of favorite books. The story is alright, the pictures, so-so. It just doesn’t move me, ya know? There are other books, however, that I could (well, DO actually) read over and over to the kids. Sometimes I think I enjoy them as much more than the boys. Take the obvious choice: Where the Wild Things Are. (Coming to a theater near you TOMORROW) I had that book as a kid. I loved it. I credit that book for me never being scared of monsters. The monsters in it weren’t scary. They were fun. Even when they tell Max “We’ll eat you up….” it is followed by “we love you so”. When Max gets home, his dinner is waiting and it is still warm. His mom loves him even though he has been bad. (kind of like Benjamin lately)
Or think about the book Goodnight Moon. It is such a simple story, with simple pictures. A little bunny tells everything in his room goodnight. My kids have gone though stages of doing that. It makes bedtime go.by.soooo.sllloooowwwwlllly. However, if we said “goodnight” to all our things at the same time the bunny says it to his stuff, it goes by much more quickly. (okay, so maybe not much, but some)
Nathaniel wanted to hear The Tub People every single night in kindergarten. They had a special reading month where we were supposed to read a certain number of books per night to our kids. I was reading more than was required, or fibbing and just putting random book titles because I did not want his teacher to wonder if we only had one book. It is a sweet one, too.
This week in school we learning about India. There are not a whole lot of fun books about India. Not that I know of, anyway. Imagine my surprise when the Tapestry of Grace assigned reading happens to be one of our long time family favorites: Little Babaji. Little Babaji is the story of a little Indian boy whose parents buy him some fancy new duds and he goes for a walk in the jungle. By and by he meets up with some hungry tigers that threaten to eat him. He cleverly trades an article of clothing for the promise not to be eaten, telling the tiger that he is the grandest tiger in the jungle. You may have heard this story before, only set in Africa, and the boy being named Sambo. That’s how I first heard it. My grandmother used to tell me that story. It was written by Helen Bannermann in 1899. She was originally from Scotland, but lived 30 years in India where her husband served as a medical officer. The stories she wrote celbrated Indian or Tamil children. The children in her stories are all very bright, like little Sambo outwitting the tigers and being rewarded with pancakes. Her stories were not racist. Not in their original forms. However, as time went on, they were published by one company, then another. The more times it was published, the less like the original the story became. By the time it got here (to the US) the story was set in Africa and the people looked like plantation slaves. Sambo actually became a racial slur. The book was eventually pulled off the shelves.You can probably find it on e-bay. You can find it in a few libraries. In 1996 Fred Marcellino published a new, updated Sambo where he had changed the names to something more politically correct. Usually I am not a fan of the PC police, but I do think there is no sense in intentionally insulting people. I also think that a beloved children’s story should not be forgotten. This is a book that is sooooo much fun to read. I love to do little voices in it. Babaji has an Indian accent. The tigers all have deep, growly voices. Mamaji and Papaji both ahve very excited voices. Samuel did his worksheet and drew a picture of little Babaji eating his big stack of pancakes. To celebrate, can you guess what we are having for supper? (in Mamaji’s voice) Pancakes!!