The Babysitter’s Guide to My Kids — Part 2: Books

The kids and I love to read books.  Reading is by far my favorite thing to do with them, and it’s their fourth favorite thing to do with me, after watching TV, watching DVDs and watching streaming videos on Netflix.

So when they’ve reached their TV quota for the day, why not suggest some reading time?  I’ve listed a few guidelines below to help you appreciate how Sutton, Bennett and I enjoy our kiddie lit.

The Reading Couch.  The leather couch is the reading couch.  The red couch is officially called Daddy’s Resting Couch, but really, it’s become the couch where we watch TV.  You can read on the TV couch, but please don’t watch TV from the reading couch.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Pictures by Clement Hurd.  This is the last book we read to the kids every night, just as they’re drifting off to sleep.  We’ve done this every day since the day they were born.  It is a beautiful tradition and a signal to the kids that it’s time to close their eyes and rest.  We are all thoroughly sick of this book.

Attention span.  The kids tend to wander in and out while you read.  That’s normal.  If a kid leaves, just keep going, and they’ll usually come back.  If they both wander away at the same time, you can stop.  Reading time is over.

TV Tie-Ins.  When they’re not watching TV, the kids love to read books about their favorite TV characters, like Dora and the Yo Gabba Gabba freaks.  These books are uniformly atrocious.  They pander to parents with positive messages like, “Be nice to monkeys who wear shoes” and “Don’t come down the slide until the last kid is out of the way”, but they are not to be considered educational.  Their narratives are weak, they read as if they’ve been translated poorly from another language and their allegiance to the source material is shaky at best.  Avoid them at all costs, or when reading them, ignore the printed words and make up your own story.  I guarantee yours will be better.

Authors.  When reading a book, always start on the cover page and read the author’s and illustrator’s names.  We credit writers in this house.  The one exception is any credit reading “Adapted from the teleplay by”.  You can skip those.

Elephant and Piggie.  One of our favorite series to read is the Elephant and Piggie series by…?  Who knows it?  That’s right, Sutton.  Mo Willems.  Willems is the Shakespeare of the under-5 set.  His books are delightful, imaginative and fun for kids and grownups alike.  Under no circumstances are you to read any of them to my children.  No one but me can play the role of Piggie.  I am always Piggie.  If there is no Daddy, THERE IS NO PIGGIE.

Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner, Illustrations by Mark Buehner.  This is Bennett’s favorite book.  We read it twelve months a year.

Voices.  Doing funny voices is optional, but if you’re going to do it, dammit, commit.

Vocabulary words.  Reading is a great time to teach the kids new words.  The kids know that “The Very Busy Spider” is an arachnid who has a lot to do.  They may even ask you what an unfamiliar word means, in which case you should try to come up with a simple definition they can repeat back to you.  Don’t read Dr. Seuss, or you’ll get too many questions.

Censorship.  At times, you may confuse the kids simply by reading the words exactly as printed on the page.  That’s because their other dad and I have been known to swap out certain controversial words for ones more familiar to our kids.  When an easy substitution can be made, “Mommy” becomes “Grandma”, “A lady” or “the other Daddy”.  When we come across the phrase “thank the Lord” in Madeline, we read “thank goodness”.  If you are particularly religious and offended by this, feel free to make it “Thank their father” and make “father” upper-case in your head.  That way, everyone’s happy.

Interactivity.  We encourage interactivity.  If there’s a flap to be lifted or a sound effect button to be pressed, let the kids do it.  Have them turn the pages for you.  If the book asks a question (i.e., “Can I drive the bus?”), let the kids answer.  (“No!”)

When reading “Pajama Time” by Sandra Boynton, have the kids shout out “It’s pajama time!” at the appropriate times.  Alternatively, read the entire book in the persona of a grizzled old bluesman in N’awlins.  That always goes over well.  (Again, though, commit.)

Challenge them.  If you’re reading Madeline, ask them to identify the Parisian landmarks in the illustrations.  (Bonus points for anyone who responds in French, i.e. “Le Tour Eiffel”.)  It’s not that we plan on taking them to Paris anytime soon, but I’m guessing a lot of preschool admissions offices have paintings of Paris on their wall.  I dream of my kids entering the offices of some snooty institution of lower learning and saying, “Look, Daddy!  It’s the Luxembourg Gardens!”, after which the headmistress will promptly fall off her chair and give us a full scholarship.

Better yet, maybe they’ll correctly identify a Jackson Pollack painting on the wall.  (We won’t tell mean old Mrs. Hodgewinkle that we know it from Olivia.)

Wrapping up.  Have you made it through five minutes of reading?  Congratulations.  You’ve kept the kids entertained with books for the maximum possible time.  Get ready, because they’re about to start asking you if they can watch more TV.

22 comments on “The Babysitter’s Guide to My Kids — Part 2: Books

  1. Ahahahha. I LOVE this. I dream of having guidelines like yours when the lady and I have babies. It’s fun to see the little traditions and normalcies of families. You do a great job of getting your family life across to your reader, and keeping it fun. 🙂

  2. I learned to sign my way through Where the Wild Things Are, Ferdinand the Bull, the first Skippyjon Jones book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and much of Madeline. Our most basic rules are “do the voices,” act out the events in the book…and stop long enough for the illustrations to be enjoyed.

    Have you introduced the kids to Tomie de Paola’s books? Those are awesome! My now 20 year-old still loves storybooks and reads to his younger brother on a regular basis. Reading with your kids is always fun…and, I must admit, it made my Mayzie impression for Horton Hatches the Egg the wonderful, wonderful thing it is today. 🙂

  3. Brilliant and, as always, tons of laughs. “We are all thoroughly sick of this book” had me roll on the floor. Maybe time to exchange it for another book. One to read until they are 4?
    Anyway, I love how you manage to package a message (reading is beneficial and fun for the kids) with this much entertainment. More, more!

    • Hi, Mrs. DiGiovanni! Drew reminded me that you actually bought Snowmen at Night for the kids last Christmas. We put it away with our holiday books, but Bennett found the book jacket around June or so and demanded we go get the book itself out of storage. Now he asks us to read it to him all the time. Thanks for introducing us to it!

  4. The boys and I highly recommend Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon…..series. I have personally always done the pigeon as cranky and overindulged (I’m a natural!). The kids still enjoy them (at the advanced age of nine), and I hope they always do.

  5. We act out the Elephant and Piggie books all the time!! And by, “we,” I mean my husband and I. We don’t have kids. That’s not weird, right?

    Did you catch Mo Willems at the LA Times Book Fest last year???!! He autographed some of our books!


  6. I love that you have your own guide on how to read for your kids! 😀 And of course, you can learn a lot of smart things from books! So what if you know it from Olivia, as long as you know it 😉 I can send you a Norwegian childrens book, and you won’t understand a thing 🙂 Then you can learn a new language as well!

  7. My oldest boy is 5, and we still read the Goodnight moon story at least once a week. We get a kick out of it because we always start the book with, “Goodnight Moon by Margaret Mise Brown…..” because he couldn’t pronouce “w” when he started talking around I always bring that up to him.

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