I went up to my mom’s last weekend and picked up 133 baby and kid books from the family storehouse. Each of us had some books of our own, especially once we were in the elementary reading range (think Babysitter’s Club and Goosebumps level reading), but most of the learning-to-read books were just passed kid to kid. Why rebuy?
Anyway, my kidlet is years away from using most of these, so I’ll probably share around the cousin network for a while, but it was a hoot to go through the storehouse and pick them out. There are some real gems, let me tell you! Let’s go through in categories.
First, of course, there is the “everybody had some of these!” category. Your Clifford the Big Red Dog, your Little Critter, your Richard Scarry. Oh, and of course your BerenSTAIN Bears, which everybody in the universe remembers as being BerenSTEIN but what do I know.
Next, of course, there is the “brand tie-in” category which is now generally dominated by Disney/Pixar. I’m not knocking Disney/Pixar, I’m just saying that my nostalgia button is hit much harder by Duck Tales, The Muppets, and Super Mario Brothers!
That Mario Brothers book is particularly great because they fully incorporated the magic mushroom element but also carefully backpedaled to discourage children from eating random sewer mushrooms.
Next up we get the “only nostalgic for me” category, which includes the fantastic story of The Little Red Hen. In this story the titular hen is trying to bake a loaf of bread. She goes around to her lazy friends asking for help at every step of the process, and at every step of the process her lazy ass friends make up shitty excuses and refuse to help. When she finally finishes her bread they all come snooping around and want to eat some. And what is the lesson here, kids? Say, “AW HELL NO YOU LAZY SHITS, I MADE IT MYSELF AND I’LL EAT IT MYSELF!”
Also in this category we get the Strega Nona books by Tomie de Paola, about you got it, an old Italian witch grandma!
Finally, there is the true reason for me cackling to myself all morning and writing this blog post. That would be the “wow THIS isn’t in print anymore!” category. I can’t get rid of any of these, because how would I ever find them again? There are a few different factors at work here. Firstly and dominantly there are all of the fairy tales and fables with gruesome plot lines, which have generally been Disneyfied over the years and spat back out in more kid-friendly versions.
But the “NOW YOU CAN READ!” series did not pull its punches. The vocabulary was simplified for first time readers, but those stories remained the same. Witness the horror that is The Little Mermaid.
There is even this amazing page at the back encouraging children to make their own stories with all these new words they’ve learned.
The Illustrated Classics that I have stacked up at the top of this post were another glorious series simplifying literature for new readers. Again, the vocabulary is brought down but the stories are the same. I remember reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame and then running, sobbing, to my mom because Esmeralda was executed and then the hunchback crawled onto her grave and died of grief.
They even did a Tales of Mystery and Terror by Edgar Allan Poe, which resulted in this fabulous children’s illustration of Fortunato being buried alive in The Cask of Amontillado.
My final pick for the evening is the other type of “wow THIS isn’t in print anymore!” book. It was content originally written for children, as opposed to the simplified classics, but ummmmm I’ll let you see for yourself.
I do love this one. Oliver likes to dance instead of playing sports, so his parents send him to dance school. By the end the other kids stop making fun of him because they realize he is so good at dancing. It’s just a little story about acceptance and that it’s okay not to conform to gendered expectations. But you know. Woof. That title. That is some 1979 right there. I especially like all the Amazon reviews that say the book is unrealistic because bullies will only bully you worse if they watch you perform. But what are you gonna do? Dance on, Oliver.