Friday, May 16, 2008

Slightly Demented Picture Books

Ever since I read this post about Slightly Demented Picture Books, I've been on a mission to find them. My preliminary research began with the books from the post, so those are the ones I'll share with you. Of course, you could just read the post in its entirety yourself, but then I'd have nothing to write about and I haven't finished "Just a Geek" by Wil Wheaton yet. Plus, you're dying to read what I think, right? Right? Hello? Is this thing on?

You're probably wondering what a Slightly Demented Picture Book (or SDPB) is, so I'll summarize by saying that it's a book that kids love and makes some adults uncomfortable. The books focused on in the post link above deal with the food chain. Here's the truth. Animals eat other animals, and yet, we don't want to see that in our children's books. I remember the first time I told my daughter that the chicken we eat is the same as the chicken that clucks and lays eggs. I thought for sure she'd be horrified but her response was, "Oh. Can I have some more?" When I checked out the books from the post, I wondered what my kids would think of them and, in general, they loved them. Some more than others. But they weren't upset or damaged, like some parents assume will happen. The books were funny and clever and some we read over and over again before returning them to the library.

Honestly, it's kind of liberating to read a book that isn't super cuddly and lovely or has counting in it. I hate counting books. I know it's important for a child's development, but I am so sick of those books. There are roughly 5,000,000,000 books that deal with counting to ten in some cutesy way and if I never read another one again, I'll be happy. Almost as bad are the books where the child finds all sorts of ways to avoid going to sleep and the mom and dad are so patient and put up with the child roaming the house, begging for more water or something. Never once do they show the mom saying, "That's enough! Stay in your bed! I don't care if you lay there with your eyes open all night, you're not coming downstairs again!" Nooo, they read more stories, have more glasses of water, find more ways to soothe them to sleep. Bleh.

What was I writing about. Reading previous paragraphs... Ah yes! SDPBs. Here are what I think of our recent reads.

This book about a giant squid was so popular with my girls that I read it four times one night before refusing to read it another time. Then my three-year-old read it to herself another couple times, since by now she had it memorized. Funny, funny book. It reminded me of a girl I knew growing up who had to be the "biggest" thing around no matter what. Truly hilarious.

Achilles the crocodile decides he's sick of bananas and would like to try eating a child. His parents do their best to discourage him of it, but he's determined to try. What ensues when he meets up with the child is so funny, but you honestly think something scary is going to happen. Loved it.

My kids seemed slightly stunned with what happened in "Ugly Fish", but once they understood how the book ends, they thought it was great. I think I like "I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean" better, but "Ugly Fish" does have an interesting view of bullying. I don't think my kids picked up on it, but it was still funny for them.

The first time I read "Tadpole's Promise" to my five-year-old, she laughed so hard I thought she was going to hurt herself. I read all of these books first to make sure nothing was too weird or out there for them. I thought this one was funny, but I honestly thought it might be sad for my kids. When she burst out laughing, I knew it was a winner. Tadpole and Caterpillar meet and fall in love. Caterpillar makes Tadpole promise to never change but, alas, he does. When she sees his new arms and legs, she says that he broke his promise and leaves him, brokenhearted. Of course, she changes too, but the ending was totally unpredictable. Super funny.

"Wolves" was not so much funny as suspenseful, waiting for the poor little bunny to figure out what wolves eat exactly. But it was funny to read the alternate ending where the bunny and wolf become best friends. There's not a whole lot to this book, but the illustrations are cool.

For other SDPBs that don't have to do with the food chain, there's some winners. I don't know if anybody else read "The Stupids" by James Marshall when they were in elementary school, but I always thought they were funny, being all backwards and weird and stuff. I checked out "The Stupids Die" for my SDPB experiment and the kids loved it so much, I got the rest of the books from the library. In my opinion, "The Stupids Die" is by far the funniest. My seven-year-old talked about the kids' report cards for days afterward ("They flunked everything! Even lunch!") and I read it multiple times. Stupid has become almost a bad word, like fat or ugly. But sometimes it's just accurate.

I didn't know that binky translated well, but apparently it's the same in Swedish and English. "Benny and the Binky" was so relevant to my kids who tend to get a new sibling every couple of years and have to cope with no longer being the baby. Benny decides to steal his new baby brother's binky and takes off with it, only to have it stolen by some touch soccer-playing pigs. The best part is when a dog comes to his rescue. My favorite picture is the one of the cover of Benny running like the wind.

I love Chris Van Allsburg because his illustrations always make me feel like I'm in an IMAX theater. "The Sweetest Fig" was just a little too much for my kids. They didn't get it, but if they did and I just couldn't tell, they didn't care for it too much. It's about a dentist who's strict and bordering on cruel to his little dog and when he gets some magic figs that makes your dreams come true, the dog is able to exact his revenge. Kind of dark, but I still liked it.

The one book I truly did not like was "When Owen's Mom Breathed Fire". I felt like this was supposed to be read to children whose mothers are bipolar. Very weird and I didn't even read it to my kids. Owen's mom gets stressed out and turns into a dragon. She forgets how to be a mom and Owen has to be the adult. Upsetting and frightening for kids to read. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

A lullaby that I've sung to my children many times is "Hush, Little Baby" and "Hush, Little Dragon" is the version the mommy dragon sings to her baby as she tries to get him some tasty villagers to eat before bedtime. I sang it like a lullaby and I think that softened it a bit. Not that it was scary or harsh, but it's hard to imagine a dragon battling a knight when it's being sung to the tune of a lullaby. I got a kick out of sweetly crooning about a queen being chomped on by a baby dragon.

I was looking through the comments on the post listed above and found oodles of SDPBs to explore. I have my work cut out for me but somehow, I'll suffer through.


  1. Those look like so much fun that I might have to go to the library. They also look like a great set of books to have in Grandma's Library. You are a gem. Hope you can hold out until Mike gets home

  2. Oh my gosh! Sailor said exactly what I was going to say. And I was reading it to him on the other computer.
    So my comment is this:
    What Grandpa said.


  3. I'm going to request all those books tonight! I've read the one about Owen and his mom turning into a dragon. I don't think it was objectionable, just a way for kids to realize that sometimes moms feel overwhelmed too. We read it once and I don't think Anya really cared one way or the other about it.

  4. I recently used Biggest Thing in the Ocean and Ugly Fish for an ocean unit, both were hugely popular w/my pre-K class. Several years ago a children's librarian told me she thought they weren't publishing good children's lit anymore. What?! I think there's more great stuff than ever.

  5. Jenny, WOW! I can't believe you read all the books on the list--how cool! And it's so interesting to hear how your kids reacted to them. Jules has two kids at home to read to, but I just have my Godson, who is eight and highly tolerant of slightly demented things. I am always so interested in what kids make of things.

    One of the books from the comments on that post was Hungry Hen by Richard Waring. You should *definitely* check that one out. I did it in storytime this past week, and the kids went nuts laughing.

  6. Thanks for the book recommedation, Adrienne! I'm always on the hunt...

  7. I had fun reading this, Jenny. Very fun commentary on a choice list of books. Since "slightly demented" books are simply the norm in our house, it's wonderful to see them from fresh perspectives. And I'm loving that 7-imp's post is motivating so many people to check out new books to read- to me, that's what it's all about!

    Boni (who wrote the knight-murdering lullaby ;)

  8. I am always pleasantly surprised when my kids love something slightly demented, since that is what I loved reading as a child. Goes to show you shouldn't assume your children won't like something.
    My seven-year-old just finished "Behind the Attic Wall" by Sylvia Cassedy which I thought was really spooky when I read it a million years ago. I warned her (since she has low tolerance for scary stuff) and she still read it. And loved it.

  9. Jenny, I'm so slow to respond. This is SO FUN. I can't believe you're going through and reading them. So fabulous. I'm going to link to this post tomorrow.

    Jules, 7-Imp