That is a question that I hear every time we go to our local bookstore as my very curious six-year-old daughter picks up eye-catching books from various sections from fiction to biographies to psychology.
My family spends a fair amount time in bookstores, so this is a query I’ve become accustomed to hearing and one I try my darndest to answer (but really, how does one explain James Joyce’s Ulysses to a six-year-old?).
Recently, I’ve been curious to see what she thought the books were about. She doesn’t yet know — from experience or exposure — the narrative of Jean-Peal Sartre’s No Exit, what happens in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or that George Orwell’s Animal Farm is not a book for children.
What happens when this recent kindergarten graduate judges a book by its cover? Here are the results:
"It's about a guy that tried to kill a mockingbird but he couldn't because the bird was magical. And the bird lives in different trees because he's trying to hide from him but the man keeps hitting leaves that look like the mockingbird, but he never shoots the mockingbird. And guy is really bad but the bird is really good."
"I think it's a book about a haunted theme park and it stars a magical magic guy and he's good and evil and he's trying to get rid of the ghosts. And I think at the end, since it's haunted by a ghost, he tried to make the park go on fire and it did."
"That looks VERY CREEPY!!!" (My daughter insisted that there be three, exactly three exclamation points). "It looks like it would be scary and very very strange and about creepy things. The story is about a very very hairy eagle who hangs out with fancy ladies."
"I think it's about a car. A car that goes to Mexico, Indonesia and other places. It's about a car that goes on all sorts of adventures. The guy on the cover is a teen, he likes to drive people places a lot. And he's French."
"This book has to be about the color purple. I think it's a baby book. It looks like it would be very short. I think there must be a blob of purple that lives in that house. And the purple blob just stays in its home and is lazy. I think it looks like a very boring book."
“This is about Daydis (her spelling it's actually Daedalus). He is an ancient god guy who prays a lot. This book is about him crying. He is crying because he doesn't like himself at all, because he hates himself. It looks like a saddy, saddy, saddy bookie."
"This book is about a tree on a hill. The tree is the star of the book and it's a very nice tree but everyone else is mean. I think the tree has a magical ring and some evil guys capture the ring and put him on the top of the hill so they can watch him."
Yes, I am playing fast and loose with the meaning of "classics." "This book is about a person who loved someone and he left her and so she is really sad. I think it looks like a very sad book. It's not a comedy at all, at all, at all, at all. "
"It looks like a book for kids. I think it's about a donkey and a pig that do not like each other and they both live on a farm for animals. The same farm. It looks like it would be a funny book with a good really nice ending."
"I think this is about a gigantic robot who goes on fire and he doesn't like himself. It has a sad ending. It looks like a book for teens. The title means fire, a really really really big fire since the number is 451, that would mean it was really hot. So the robot must get really hot. Maybe that is why he is so sad."