Rare is the Children’s book that has not made me want to re-write. Rarer by far is the Children’s book that treats children like the intelligent people that they are, without making itself far too complicated for the child to get anything out of it.
For some years, I tried working around the books that were available, but now I have stopped altogether. Stories, I have stopped reading out – I merely hold the books up and help the children make up their own stories. And reference books, I just use the pictures of.
But sometimes, you find a book so terribly terrible, it makes you stop on your tracks and wonder if capital punishment should not meted out to people who take such liberties.
My younger son is all of thirty months old. He’s in the process of articulating the concepts of big-small, tall-short, thick-thin, and the book he got home from the Class Library was to help him do just that.
The book opened nicely with a friendly introduction for the parents, and three yellow duckies called Dib, Dab and Dob asking you to point out the big dog and the small dog. ‘Hey, this is a pretty decent book’, you thought to yourself, ‘even kids who have no idea of sizes can understand the concept.’
You praised the book too soon.
On turning the page, you were confronted with a picture of three giraffes striding along a savannah grassland. Big, bigger, biggest is what Dib (or maybe it was Dab) wanted you to get the kid to point out. It was not even, as my mother pointed out, the technical mistake of calling giraffes ‘big’ rather than ‘tall’. It was something much more fundamental – when the kid is just about learning to tell ‘big’ from ‘small’, why then should you have to complicate things further by telling him that ‘small’ is actually ‘big’ and ‘big’ is in fact ‘biggest’. My five year old can perhaps understand that, not so the child who the book is meant for.
It only got worse –
Can you point to the tallest flowers?
Can you point to the shortest flowers?
Forget either of my kids, can you?
The flower of the sunflower plant is the biggest, and the plant is also the tallest, so you could safely point to that and say, ‘this is the tallest’.
But the smallest flower is that of the fox glove, while the tulip plant is the shortest. Which of them is meant to be the shortest flower? Don’t ask me for answers, I did not write the book. And neither did the author think to provide answers at the end of the book.
I did the most sensible thing I could think of – I used the book to teach the son colours – violet, ochre, peach, olive – the book was just brimming with the colours that both the kids are now obsessed with.
But, I wonder if it is too much to ask of the author of a Children’s book to test it on a single intelligent child before offering it for publication.