105 Ways to Give a Book

Tuesday Ten: 2013 Picture Books

Over the last year or two, I've backed off from receiving review copies. Between working at the library and attending events like Book Expo America, I have books galore. But I do still get some books, and like to pass them at the holiday season to a family shelter. Here are some books that are finding a new home this December:

999 Frogs Wake Up999 Frogs Wake Up
by Ken Kimura, illustrated by Yasunari Murakami

North South, 2013
A whole lot of frogs wake up in the springtime and set out to wake up all sleepyheads, including one who should be left alone!

How Far do You Love Me?
by Lulu Delacre

Lee & Low Books, 2013
A mother expresses her great love against the terrains of the world, from tops of mountains to depths of caves, from desert sands to blue glaciers.

I Can See Just Fine
by Eric Barclay

Abrams, 2013
Even though she insists she can see just fine, a little girl gets glasses that make things much clearer.

I Scream, Ice Cream!I Scream, Ice Cream!
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Serge Bloch
Chronicle Books, 2013
Interesting wordplay as similar sounding words and phrases are illustrated with humor.

Ol’ Mama Squirrel
by David Ezra Stein

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013
Ol’ Mama Squirrel takes care of her babies, no matter what it takes!

Peace, Baby!
by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Chronicle Books, 2013
Lessons in letting go of little conflicts and bad times with an attitude of peace.

Rainbow StewRainbow Stew
by Cathryn Falwell

Lee & Low Books, 2013
A family of color works together at grandpa’s house to make a vegetable stew.

Someone’s Sleepy
by Deborah Lee Rose, illustrated by Dan Andreasen

Abrams, 2013
A little girl gets ready for bed in all her sleepy sleepiness.

Steam Train, Dream Train
by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Chronicle Books, 2013
In the nighttime, a train is loaded up by a busy animal crew.

There’s No One I Love Like You
There’s No One I Love Like You
by Jutta Langreuter, illustrated by Stefanie Dahle

North South, 2013
A little rabbit, annoyed at home and mom, gives another homes a try. But of course, home is where the heart is.

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

What Does the Fox Give? Books!

I’ll continue to plug my 150 Ways to Give a Book throughout December, but with some new ideas, twists, and commentary. For instance today, I’ll be connecting the concepts of three separate posts. I know, radical.

When I discussed a certain book born from the success of a viral video, I was ambivalent. Is this the very thing BACA should rail against, or was it an insightful marketing campaign? And what can I even say when the whole thing is just too perfect.

“WhatSay you choose to give the book What Does the Fox Say? for Christmas this year. Well, your gift pairing options are wide open. You could go with the simple, yet classic, cute plush fox. An excellent choice, sure to appeal across a wide age range.

You could pull together a collection of recent fox-themed books, like Come Back, Moon and OutFoxed. Tie the whole thing together with a little felt fox ornament. I’ve seen cute ones at Target and Kohl’s, but you can’t go anywhere now and NOT find a fox ornament. Yeah, this trend is big.

fox hatYou could give a little fox necklace or a little fox hat. Both so cute. If you're the crafty type, you may be able to make the hat. Or search for the many choices for either on Etsy. Or going another way, you could give the book with the movie The Fantastic Mr Fox especially if you make extra time to watch it together.

If you’re rewarding the adult in your life for their excellent taste in viral videos, you might consult the Land of Nod post noting the fox trend in various household items. Or just keep it simple and give fox socks, if only so you can say ‘fox socks’ over and over again. Fox socks fox socks fox socks. So fun to say!

Or you could go creepy and dark and give an actual fox tail. Yup, you can buy actual fox tails through Amazon. On one hand I’m appalled. On the other, disappointed that I didn’t know this sooner before I destroyed the hood of a thrift store coat to retrieve the fox fur lining for my daughter’s theatre costume. By the way, I wouldn’t suggest the actual fox tail as a children’s gift. Though a simple costume could be fun, I’m having trouble searching for it online without getting either terrible costumes where the tails are like rolled up felt or some variation on “foxy” costumes, which is NOT what I want.

So there you have several - let’s say inspiring - ways to give just one selected picture book titles. For more pairings and ideas, shop 150 Ways to Give a Book.

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

150 Ways to Give a Book

For all of your holiday shopping needs, here are 150 Ways to Give a Book, grouped by (approximate) age. They are all MotherReader-approved titles — i.e., Good Books. There are a lot more choices for younger kids, as that’s the group we adults most fear disappointing with giving “only” a book. And picture books are my specialty. After the book and gift selections, I’ve also included ways to wrap a book, and book-themed gifts to include for a variety of ages. There are new 2013 titles mixed in with older ones — though there aren’t many classics, as I’ve tried to select books that kids would be less likely to have on their shelves.

Sometimes I choose the hardback when the paperback is also available, so check if that is important to you. I’ve also linked to the fun extras through Amazon, for example, to save you shopping time, and because I get some small credit for your purchases through the Amazon Associates program. But know that you can find cheaper alternatives for some small things — paints, pens, journals, etc. — at a local discount store. On the other hand, doing all your purchases online and having them sent to your door is priceless.

Leave suggestions for titles in the comments, as I'm always looking for new ideas. I hope you'll share this link as you promote giving books as gifts for the holidays and that you find some great ideas for your own friends and family. Enjoy!

  1. Give an experience like a trip to a zoo, aquarium, museum, aviary, arena, or city. Put the passes, tickets, or homemade gift certificate with a relevant book to make it feel more tangible.
  2. Take a road trip with Ask Me so you can use the driving time to ask each other the interesting questions from the book.
  3. Give a book with a movie theater gift card to see the upcoming film.
  4. Give a book with a gift card to rent the movie. Include a box of microwave popcorn.
  5. One Hen - How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference
  6. Give One Hen — How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference with a loan to Kiva or a donation to Heifer International to buy chicks. For more charity and book matches, look to this list from Abby the Librarian.
  7. Pair any book with another book from the bargain section, maybe something silly or crafty or gimmicky.
  8. Pair a detective book with a magnifying glass.
  9. Match poetry books with word beads or magnetic poetry.
  10. Pair a picture book with a related stuffed animal.
  11. Give an interesting, insightful book with a restaurant gift card and a date to discuss the book together over a meal.
  12. Honor the book enthusiast with necklace along with a new title.
  13. Celebrate writing too with special journals from Tara Books, an independent press based in India.
Picture Books
  1. Learn letters with ABC, Baby Me! board book or The Sleepy Little Alphabet and letter links.
  2. Or work with numbers (and colors) with 10 Hungry Rabbits and magnetic numbers.
  3. Or let them battle it out with 123 vs ABC and bath toys
  4. The Day the Crayons Quit
  5. Give The Day the Crayons Quit with a pack of fat crayons and a stack of copy paper from an office supply store.
  6. Or go with Art and Max or Blue Chicken with a paint set.
  7. Pair The Curious Garden with gardening tools and seeds.
  8. It’s almost dessert when you give The Cow Loves Cookies with a cookie counting game.
  9. What else can go with Extra Yarn but extra yarn? Well, and knitting needles and instructions.
  10. Pair Kite Flying and/or Kite Day with a new kite.
  11. Give Bats at the Ballgame with a bat and ball. You can throw in a coupon book for practice sessions.
  12. Take a bedtime book like Little Owl’s Night, A Bedtime for Bear or Sweet Dreams and add a night light.
  13. Or choose A Full Moon is Rising or Moonlight with glow-in-the-dark moon and stars — or go high tech with this Moon in my Room.
  14. Giant Dance Party
  15. Get moving with Giant Dance Party with Kids Dance Party CD.
  16. Keep up the music by giving Drum City with an old-time tin drum.
  17. Pair Bubble Trouble with touchable bubbles.
  18. Ballet dancers will love the classic Angelina Ballerina or the slightly edgyVampirina Ballerina (or both) with a fancy tutu or two… two.
  19. Give little superheroes SuperHero ABC along with a superhero cape.
  20. Encourage a future Iron Chef by giving Rainbow Stew or Oscar and the Very Hungry Dragon with a cooking set.
  21. Silliness ensues with Pigs to the Rescue and the Pass the Pigs game.
  22. Take it outside with Chalk with 3-D sidewalk chalk.
  23. The Monstore
  24. Pair Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site or Building with Dad with toy construction vehicles.
  25. Give The Monstore with the monster game.
  26. Who can resist that match-up of Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek with Lincoln Logs?
  27. Give your little dragon-lover Hush Little Dragon or Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood with a cute dragon.
  28. Is there a doctor in the house? There will be with picture book Doctor Ted along with a doctor kit.
  29. Future firefighter instead? Give Fire! Fuego! along with Firefighters A to Z and firefighter gear.
  30. Pair picture book Crafty Chloe with a selection of craft supplies.
  31. What else can go with Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum other than lots of bubble gum.
  32. Cat lovers can enjoy picture books I Don’t Want a Cool Cat, Katie Loves the Kittens, and Won Ton with a cat card game.
  33. Here Comes Trouble!
  34. Or let the dogs out with Dogs, Here Comes Trouble!, and If You Give a Dog a Donut and dog themed dominoes.
  35. Add a car to a child's train set, but include Steam Train, Dream Train or Elisha Cooper's Train.
  36. Nature lovers will enjoy Birdsongs along with a guidebook like Backyard Birds and some binoculars.
  37. For more nature, pair A Butterfly is Patient with a butterfly garden kit.
  38. Give your favorite girly-girl Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy with dress-up jewelry and/or a fancy poodle.
  39. Give your rough little boy Pirates Don’t Change Diapers along with genuine pirate gear.
  40. Another nighttime choice is Goodnight, Little Monster with an Ugly Doll.
  41. Give picture book The Moon with a special flashlight and a promise for a nighttime walk or two.
  42. Blackout
  43. Or for a different angle with that flashlight, pair with Blackout and prepare for indoor fun with the lights out.
  44. Take sweet picture book Lissy’s Friends and pair it with an origami kit.
  45. Picture books A Sick Day for Amos McGee or Pssst! would be perfect with a zoo animal collection or game.
  46. Or head down to the Farm, adding a Lace and Trace Farm Set.
  47. 999 Frogs Wake Up goes nicely with Flingin' Frogs game.
  48. For a western theme, give A Night on the Range or Every Cowgirl Loves a Rodeo with a cowboy hat.
  49. Take a special book, like Wow! It Sure is Good to Be You (which is about an aunt loving her far-away niece), and make a CD recording of you reading it.
  50. Pair Duck and Goose with a bright ball.
  51. Dusk
  52. Celebrate the season with the beautiful Dusk and appropriate lights or decorations.
  53. The funny wordless book Once Upon a Banana is a perfect fit with a stuffed monkey — but show your sense of humor by throwing a banana into the gift bag.
  54. Another wordless book choice is the visually stunning The Tree House, which works surprisingly well with Littlest Pet Shop brown bear and polar bear.
  55. Give The Snow Globe Family with a snow globe.
  56. Pair Lilly’s Big Day with dress-up clothes.
  57. Or another dress-up option is the Ladybug Girl books with wings and antennae.
  58. Pair Bubble Bath Pirates with a cool rubber duck.
  59. Give the wonderful The Day the Babies Crawled Away with a baby doll.
  60. Everyone needs Mo Willems’ book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, maybe adding a toy bus and a cargo truck.
  61. Pair classic A Bargain For Frances with a tea set.
Early Elementary
    Boy! Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs
  1. Pair a nonfiction book about dinosaurs, like Boy! Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs, with a bunch of plastic ones.
  2. Give Instructions with a book of classic fairy tales, and make time to read them together.
  3. Introduce a folktale with Maneki Neko: the Tale of the Beckoning Cat and giving lucky cat bank.
  4. Pair silly beginning reader book The Monster in the Backpack with a cute backpack (monster additional).
  5. Give beginning reader books Amazing Sharks! and National Geographic Readers: Sharks! and throw in a shark on a stick.
  6. Take to the ice with book choices Katie Kazoo, On Thin Ice and passes to the local ice-skating rink.
  7. Soccer Cats
  8. Give a title from the Soccer Cats series with a soccer ball.
  9. Pair Toys Go Out with a red bouncy ball, or a plush stingray or buffalo.
  10. Pair Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs with a kazoo.
  11. Give early chapter book series books Rainbow Fairies or Flower Fairies with lovely little fairies.
  12. Blooming fashionistas will appreciate Paper Fashions (Klutz) (all thirty-five Amazon reviews gave five stars!) along with Fashion Kitty.
  13. Combine sweet Jenny and the Cat Club with a red scarf (don’t worry if it’s too long — so is Jenny’s) and a black cat.
  1. Satisfy a sweet tooth with The Candymakers with a candy making kit.
  2. Pair Operation YES! with green army men.
  3. Be a hero and give Percy Jackson and the Olympians Boxed Set with Heroes, Gods, and Monsters of the Greek Myths.
  4. Pair fantasy book The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda with a Stars Wars 'Ask the Force' top.
  5. Give What the World Eats with a promise for an international dinner out or in.
  6. Pair Every Soul a Star with The Kids Book of the Night Sky and plan a date to look at the stars together.
  7. For business-minded kids, pair The Lemonade War with a coin counter bank.
  8. Expand the idea of giving with The One and Only Ivan with an adopt-an-animal program at your local zoo.
  9. All the elementary school kids will love The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but you can pair it with tin wind-up toys for extra flair.
  10. Give Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little with um, Stuart Little.
  11. Frankenstein
  12. You can’t go wrong with the funny poems and outstanding art in Frankenstein Takes the Cake along with a cake-baking session, followed by reading the book together. As a matter of fact, throw in Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and make a whole day — and meal — of it.
  13. Speaking of the amazing Adam Rex, give the hilarious book The True Meaning of Smekday with a the related T-shirt Regarding Stickyfish Teams, I Favor the Bigfield Fighting Koobish.
  14. Give Kimchi & Calamari with a promise for a dinner out Korean style, or Italian style, or both.
  15. Wrap up A Crooked Kind of Perfect with excellent toe socks.
  16. Perhaps Fabulous Hair with a collection of hair accessories will make someone smile.
  17. Pair a diary-format book like Lucy Rose: Big on Plans (3rd/4th grade), Amelia’s Notebook (4th/5th grade), or The Princess Diaries (6th/7th grade) with a journal and fun pens.
  18. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck
  19. For a boy, how about the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck with the Do It Yourself Journal?
  20. Have fun with Clarice Bean Spells Trouble and a game of Scrabble.
  21. Pair Phineas MacGuire... Erupts! with a science kit, or the next book in the series, Phineas MacGuire... Gets Slimed! with the slime science kit.
  22. Look to fantastic nonfiction, giving Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon with a homemade coupon for a visit to the Air and Space Museum (okay, this might only work around Washington, D.C.) or astronaut ice cream.
  23. Give a drawing book like Draw 50 Aliens or Draw 50 Animals with a couple of nice sketch pads.
  24. Pair a spy-themed book like Harriet the Spy (chapter book) or The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy (nonfiction) with rear-view sunglasses and/or a fingerprint kit.
  25. Bigger girls like stuffed animals, too. How about Hoot with an owl or The World According to Humphrey with a hamster?
  26. Select a magic book and fun magic tricks.
  27. Pair D.I.Y.: Kids with a gift card to a local craft store, and maybe some shopping and crafting time together.
  28. Book of Animal Poetry
  29. Match the book and the movie, like The Spiderwick Chronicles with the DVD.
  30. Pair a theme book like Katie and the Mustang with a horse charm and a satin cord from a craft store.
  31. Or maybe Fairy Realm with a charm bracelet.
  32. Give the first books of The Series of Unfortunate Events with a brass telescope.
  33. Pair The Art Book for Children with watercolor paints or an art set.
  34. Give National Geographic's Book of Animal Poetry, Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart or Poetry Speaks to Children with hot chocolate, a mug, and a gift certificate for time to read it together.
  1. Give the companion books Goth Girl Rising and The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl , and throw in How to Draw Comic Book Heroes and Villains.
  2. Pair a book that you and a teen can enjoy with a gift card to Starbucks and a promise to talk about the book over coffee. Some suggestions? Liar, Candor, or The Adoration of Jenna Fox have interesting issues.
  3. Beauty Queens
  4. Give Beauty Queens with a small makeup kit, and a healthy dose of irony.
  5. Rock out with Beige along with a mix CD of the songs in the chapter titles (or an iTunes gift card).
  6. Buy a teen Dramarama along with tickets to a show.
  7. Pair House of Dance with ballroom dance lessons.
  8. Give delicious book A La Carte with personal cooking lessons.
  9. Match casino gambling themed Drop with a deck of cards and a family game of penny poker or blackjack.
  10. Pair King Dork with a CD of The Mr. T Experience.
  11. Treat a tween to Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf along with pink nail polish, lipstick, post-it notes, and special bubble bath, as mentioned in the book.
  12. Pair The Chicks with Sticks Guide to Knitting and/or the completely unrelated YA fiction Chicks with Sticks with yarn, knitting needles, and a promise for some lessons.
  13. Give Ductigami: The Art of Tape with... well, rolls of duct tape.
  1. Give nonfiction book Fruitless Fall with real honey from a whole foods store.
  2. Geography of Bliss
  3. Buy two copies of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World  — one for you, one for a friend — and make a lunch date to talk about the book and one’s personal quest for happiness.
  4. Pair Life is Sweet with chocolate, any kind.
  5. Give This I Believe II with the first book This I Believe and a journal to capture great revelations of inner truth.
  6. Recapture that one exciting election year when we had hope with Dreams From My Father and Life’s The American Journey of Barack Obama.
  7. Match travel memoir-themed books with the... um, drink of the region. Like In a Sunburned County with Yellow Tail wine from Australia or The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific with coconut rum. (Adults only for this gift, obviously.)
  8. Colbert fans and soon-to-be converts need the new book, America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't along with the greatest gift of all, the DVD A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All.
  9. Give The Devil Wears Prada, Bitter Is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, or Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office, and This Little Piggy Went to Prada in a Prada bag (from eBay! C’mon, a girl can dream...)
Wrap a Book
  1. Wrap your book up in solid paper and tie a cool scarf around it. I love this red and white striped one, which would look great with red or green paper.
  2. For just a little something extra, make these headbands the ribbons around your wrapped package.
  3. Strawberry bags
  4. Try reusable shopping bags — wrap in one, attach another in its pouch as a gift. These bags fold up into little strawberries. Cute!
  5. Or tuck a book or two in an Aeropostale tote.
  6. Wrap a cookbook in photocopies of your favorite recipes. A knitting book with your own favorite patterns. Or hey, wrap a book about finances in real money.
  7. Wrap your book up in a clever Threadless t-shirt. Want a literary theme? They’ve got that covered.
  8. If you’re going the book gift card route, give it in a recycled newspaper change purse.
  9. Maybe you just want to attach a little something to the gift for fun. I suggest a keychain, bookmarks, an ornament, bangle-bracelets, locker magnets, or lip gloss. You can find these online, but personally, I go to the very back of Claire’s stores where they often have incredible discounts on such little things.
  10. Okay, I listed keychains, but here are some reading-themed ones like this one.
  11. And yes I mentioned bookmarks, but not a Reading Ninja bookmark.
  12. Don’t have the time or energy to deal with the mall? Find a little booklight to tie on the package. I like the look of this one
Add a Book-Themed, Handmade Gift
    Recycled Book Notecards
  1. Give recycled book postcards like these Armful of Books.
  2. Everyone isn’t on GoodReads, so here’s a little reading journal.
  3. For home, locker or cubicle cabinets, some reading-themed Bottle Cap Magnets.
  4. Bibliophiles don’t need to hide their love of the page with a Bookish necklace.
  5. Or proclaim a love of words on your ears with Shakespeare earrings.
  6. A sweet art print for people who love to read.
  7. Or for another take, a print of a favorite animal on vintage book pages, especially one for book lovers
  8. Maybe give a tote to carry those tomes, but one with a twist like .
  9. Maybe give a book loving coffee mugs filled with chocolates for a special treat.
  10. Send out some love to the ereaders with a special cover of words.

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What Does the Fox Say? Hold it. WHAT?

Can we talk about this? I feel like we should talk about this.

On one hand as the founder - and what the hell, president - of Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors (BACA), I need to come out firmly against the idea of a viral video becoming a children's book. However, is a viral video star really a celebrity? I'm not sure about that.

Also, I read something that indicated that the book was already in the works, which makes the video more like brilliant marketing. I'd like to believe this is true, because otherwise I'm a bit disturbed by the speed in which this picture book developed. And because I love the video. Like, obsessed. The simple words matched with the dance tune performed with stellar production. Yeah, I'm a fan and it would be hard to rule against it.

Yet giving this clearance under BACA would only encourage more crossovers. I'm surprised "Charlie Bit My Finger!" isn't a book. Wait......

Whew. It isn't. But that's what's coming if we let one video become a picture book. Next it's a whole "Wrecking Ball" series.

But then I'm back to this brilliance:

And I don't even know, man. Discuss.

By the way, BACA's back! All right!

Storytime: What Does the Fox Say?

My story time program for twos and threes is What does the Fox Say? The concept will only amuse me, but there you have it. I’m using some new and some older titles, but it’s a nice little collection, if I do say so myself.

Book: Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, by Julia Rawlinson, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke
Greenwillow Books, 2006
The little fox Fletcher worries as his favorite tree starts losing its leaves, but is awed by the beauty that winter’s snow brings. Great books for autumn with soft, watercolor illustrations.

Song: “One Little, Two Little”
One little, two little, three little foxes
Four little, five little, six little foxes
Seven little, eight little, nine little foxes,
All with bushy, bushy, tails.

Book: Fox Forgets, by Suzanne Bloom
Boyds Mills Press, 2013
Fox is supposed to pass on a message to Bear about their friend Goose, but forgets to do so. It all works out okay. Bright blue backgrounds and cute animals accentuate the simple text.

Song: “Little Foxes” (loosely tuned to "Little Boxes")
Little foxes, little foxes, all lined up in rows
Little foxes, little foxes, bushy tail and black nose.
Little foxes, little foxes, in orange, white, and gray.
Oh, I love those little foxes, don’t take them away.

BookThe Fox in the Dark, by Alison Green (JP GRE)
Animals run and hide from the fox, but the fox is just looking for her baby, so they all get along. Longer, rhyming text with moments of storytelling suspense. Cute illustrations too.

Song: “The Fox” (folk song)
The fox went out on a chilly night
He prayed for the moon to give him light
For he’d many a mile to go that night,
Before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o.
He’d many a mile to go that night,
Before he reached the town-o.

Book: Come Back, Moon, by David Kherdian, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian
Beach Lane Books, 2013
Bear takes the moon and Fox takes the lead in finding it again. Simple story and text, with a subtext of working together. Soft and lovely watercolor illustrations.

Fingerplay: “The Fox in the Box”
From under the bushes
Comes the red fox.
He runs over the grass
And jumps into a box.
He swishes his tail.
And jumps out again.
Ducks under the bushes
And back in his den.

Book: OutFoxed, by Mike Twohy
S & S, Paula Wiseman Book 2013
A fox steals a duck to eat, but the duck convinces Fox that he is a dog — not a duck. Funny and clever, with cartoon-style illustrations and a graphic novel feel. Total fun.

In Support, Forever, of Junie B. Jones

I was so sad to hear that Barbara Park passed away this weekend. Ms. Park was a wonderful writer who understood kids in all their funny, awful goodness. When parents shy away from her Junie B. Jones books, I talk about how they show kids writing with voice, humor, wordplay, and great characterization. I couldn't be a bigger fan, and wanted today to share an article I wrote years ago on just why Junie B. Jones books are so fantastic for young readers. I debated updating the article - the seven year old referred to is now seventeen and finished submitting her strikingly amusing college applications essays - but leaving it alone adds a pathos that seems particularly appropriate.

Recently, my seven-year-old approached me with this statement: “I know why jockeys get the trophies in horse races,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “Because jockeys make the horses go faster with the whacker sticks. They whack the horses until they go fast enough to win.” Yes, whacker sticks.
An adult would have searched for the correct word for whacker stick (which I believe is crop), but a kid plows forward with the confidence and creativity of youth and the belief that she will be understood. Children see language as pliable, moldable, and ultimately useable. It is only later that we will stifle their confidence and creativity with rules and structure and grammar.
And that vision of communication exemplifies why I love Junie B. Jones. She captures this elusive stage of childhood and reflects it back to the reader. And that is just part of what makes her so special. So I offer six reasons why the series — now twenty-six books strong — rocks. Illustrated with examples from the latest book, Junie B., First Grader: Aloha-ha-ha.
  1. It’s been said that Junie B. teaches children incorrect English. If books had that much influence over children’s speech patterns, then the Brer Rabbit stories I read my kids last week would surely have come out by now. Yet they have never uttered a “b’rer” in conversation, nor has the term “tar baby” come up. (If only the same could be said for the Governor of Massachusetts.) Junie B. just expresses herself as naturally and unselfconsciously as any first graders I’ve known.
I threw out my arms real thrilled. And I flinged myself way high in the air.
“I can’t wait, Mr. Scary! I can’t wait! I can’t wait!” I said. Mr. Scary grabbed my arms. And he kept me from flinging.
  1. If Junie B. doesn’t teach children the correct way to speak, Barbara Park does teach them the correct way to write. My daughter’s third grade teacher complimented my daughter’s writing by telling me what a wonderful voice she expressed in her writing. She informed me that she could help her writing structure, but finding a voice in writing was harder to teach. Barbara Park does that — by example — in the Junie B. books. We can tell that we are dealing with a first grader when we read the lines. We can hear this child, and it’s a great lesson for kids in conveying a character or capturing a voice in their own writing.
I bounced up and down at that exciting idea. “That sounds like a D-E-E-L!” I said.
  1. These are books written for kids with a character they can understand. Everyone knows a kid like Junie B. — or is a kid like Junie B. Kids will cut their own hair. They get little kid crushes. They do the wrong things sometimes. Seeing someone else do these things is reassuring to kids that they are not alone and reassuring to parents that their kids are not the only rambunctious ones.
When teachers don’t look, you have to stand up and shout. Or else how are they supposed to notice you?
I stood up and shouted..
  1. Barbara Park treats the adults in her books like real people. Sometimes they are supportive and kind, but sometimes they are mad or just annoyed. Sometimes they don’t even know the right thing to do. When Junie B. gets stuck in the parrot swim ring she insisted on buying, her mom says she will have to cut it off.
 “For heaven’s sake! What kind of mother would cut a little girl’s parrot?” said the grandpa.
“I don’t know, Ed,” said the grandma. “But it sure don’t seem right.”
Mother stood there kind of frozen.
Then she and Daddy picked up our pool towels. And we moved to different lounge chairs.
After that Mother sat back down again. And she said she wouldn’t get the scissors.
  1. Barbara Park understands that if the parents are entertained, they’ll read with (or to) their kids. A lot of what is in the Junie B. books is funnier to parents than it is to the kids. I mean, the kids think it is funny. But the parents really get the joke. It’s the Sesame Street idea of programming: Keep something in there for the grown-ups and everyone is happy. You’ll see this trend in the kids’ movies and better cartoons of the last decade as well, where many of the jokes involve cultural references intended for older viewers. Like this passage at the security at the airport:
Then a lady pulled us out of the line.
And she made us hold out our arms.
And she waved a giant wand all around ourselves.
I clapped very thrilled.
“Hey! This is just like America’s Most Wanted!” I said.
The lady said this was not a joke, little miss.
I stopped clapping.
The airport does not have a good sense of humor.
  1. Kids know that the creative language and grammar is part of the joke. I found that when my first daughter was old enough to read Junie B. to me, she sometimes corrected the grammar and words as she was reading. She couldn’t help it. She had already listened to seven years of the word ran, so Junie B’s use of runned wasn’t going to change what she knew. But more significantly, she knew that this is how kids talk. Just this minute, my seven-year-old told me Junie B. was funny because she uses the wrong words. And — also true to what I was saying — her seven-year-old way of telling me was disjointed and kind of funny, but I couldn’t get her words down accurately enough to convey it here. The fact that Barbara Park can get those words — the true spirit of how children communicate — is amazing. Plus also (that’s a Junie B.), kids adopt odd strings of parental expressions, and when they come back from a child’s mouth, it’s funny. And it’s real.
“How many minutes is shortly?” I asked. “Is it one minute or eight minutes or eleven minutes? On account of it it’s one minute, I can wait, probably. But eleven minutes would be out of the question.”

Most importantly, Junie B. books make kids want to read more. And really, when it comes right down to it, isn’t that what it is all about? Reading for fun. Growing up, there will be plenty of time for grammar, structure, and the correct words. Right now, kids can’t wait to see what Junie B. will do next. And you know what? Neither can I.