“Maman!! Un livre sur les toins!!” cried my son at the top of his lungs as he discovered a gorgeous detailed fold out “twain” book at my parents’ village library. He was so excited to dig into this book that he insisted we leave right now so we could read it at “mamie-papi’s house”. Ayo enthusiastically plopped the heavy book on the librarian’s desk to check it out. “Attentioooooon” she said, terribly irritated. “Books are delicate!! Here, that isn’t how to hold a book, let me show you how to hold it!” she snapped as she walked around the counter to reposition the book, now back in Ayo’s arms.
Although the interaction felt rather ornery, I am not the type to get too bent out of shape by the way the librarian spoke to my kid. It’s cultural and Ayo thankfully has a pretty thick skin thus far. However, what came next definitely irked me. The librarian told him that the book he was excited about was far too advanced for him. That he should probably choose a more age-appropriate one. I have to say, that in this always-on era, the last thing we need are librarians who discourage spending time in the library and discourage reading. And, then the next question we have to ask ourselves: what books are truly age-appropriate?
Because I checked out another book that was intended for my daughter Délice. You might know the massive board book by Janik Coat called Mon Hippopotame in French or Hippopposites in English. Each spread features a pair of opposites revolving around a cute little hippo: heavy/light, soft/rough..
..and then the book loses all the kids with these ultra abstract notions of opaque/transparent, singular/plural (can you spot the tiny bird on hippo’s shoulders?), front/profile..
The illustrations are adorable, but the notions are terribly abstract for any child who is still reading a board book.
I then move on to a book to count cardinal numbers and the text is rhythmic but I am not even sure I understand all of these adjectives. I know that early literacy experts view any sort of text, even gibberish, as a workout for little ears, but it seems pointless when little eyes completely gloss over.
Let’s try our ABCs with this cute audiobook Mon Imagier de l’Alphabet and accompanying CD. Each page is an oil painting, absolutely gorgeous. I also like the fact that the Putumayo style music can be appreciated by the whole family. However, it is completely irritating to teach kids letters by including them at the end or in the middle of a word. Come on, guys, where are the educators working with these artists!?
As you know, I am not really a fan of run of the mill white classic children’s books. I guess in my world, the ideal children’s book works with known concepts but uses new vocabulary on each page, it introduces new concepts at an age appropriate level but starts from a familiar topic.
Back to our train book. We had read each word and each detail 30 minutes after arriving back from the library. There was a lot of text and it is quite advanced, but my son is just obsessed by this subject matter. It might not have been age-appropriate but it was more educational than the black and white positive/negative hippo spread.
So, over to you, what do you think makes a good children’s book? Is it in the illustrations, the text, the rhythm, the storyline? And what makes them age-appropriate?