The 10 Oddest Toddler Books, from the Baffling to the BizarreJana Llewellyn
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1: Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch
To show her son that he will always be her baby, the mother in this book rocks him when he's an infant, a brazen ten-year-old, and a distant teenager. When he becomes a man and moves across town, she even drives to his house in the dead of night. I hear his wife is currently writing a book called How to Survive Marriage When Your Mother-in-Law Is a Stalker.
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2: The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown
Overbearing mothers are certainly not scarce in childrens literature. In this book, Brown presents us with a mother who will not be outwitted. Her bunnys first problem is that he tells her hes planning to run away, when he should have done it on the sly, while she was sleeping. In each scenario he comes up with becoming a fish who swims away, transforming into a mountain climber or a flower the mother outdoes him, convincing him she will capture him wherever he goes. Once he gives up on his escape plans, she offers him a carrot, a sure sign that her guilt over not granting him independence will lead to his eventual obesity. (If we are to see the carrot as a symbol for potato chips, of course.)
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3: Curious George, by H.A. Rey
The PBS version of Curious George is cute enough, but the book, which came out in the 1940s, is a different matter. Sure, George gets into trouble, calling the fire department for a false alarm, escaping prison guards, floating into the air with a bouquet of childrens balloons. But who can blame him? He was perfectly content swinging from branches in Africa until a man with a large yellow straw hat kidnapped him and put him on a boat destined for America. Maybe Rey wasnt intending to write an allegory of slavery, but the connection is too disturbing to ignore.
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4: Olivia Goes to Venice, by Ian Falconer
Olivia is one of my favorite childrens books because the school-age heroine is smart and imaginative, but in this volume, her confidence morphs into brattiness. She wants to live in a Palazzo, eat gelato five times a day, and barter with the gondolier. Not only would it be utterly exhausting to endure a long flight with this loquacious girl-pig and her young brothers, but Olivias poor mom is also in desperate need of a makeover. Her uniform in every scene consists of a slim black skirt, fitted white blouse, and baby on her hip. And would it be possible for Olivias dad to put down his newspaper and coffee and help with the kids? Sure, its nice to cart them over to Europe, but its nicer to share childcare responsibilities. Maybe if he fed the baby, Olivias mom would try out a negligee.
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5: Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton
This book seems to be making a comment on a post-industrialist culture, but each time I read it, I fall asleep before I can figure it out. Mike Mulligan and his trusty steam shovel, Mary Anne, were doing so well until the new electric and Diesel shovels came along. Mary Annes last project consists of digging the cellar of a town hall, only to find out that she cant escape. Thats right. Buried alive.
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6: My Big Boy Bed, by Eve Bunting
This story seems like a good idea if your child is transitioning from a crib to a bed, but as you read, youll need to start improvising by adding some punishments and time-outs. (I learned this the hard way.) This little boy boasts that he can jump high on his bed and get down at night, tip-toe-ing around the upstairs bedrooms. Meanwhile, his parents must be downing shots of whiskey, because theyre completely ignorant of his raucous solo party. Hopefully theyve hidden the matches.
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7: Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey
The androgyne in this tale really needs a blueberry intervention, because instead of filling her bucket for winter, as her mother suggests, she keeps eating them. (Shed so fail the marshmallow test.) Meanwhile, a bear and her cub also graze the field hoping to fill their bellies before hibernation. Its interesting how similar humans and bears are, I guess? Except that bears eat humans. Maybe next time Sal and her mother ought to go to the supermarket like the rest of the country and save themselves from being the lead story on the nightly news.
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8: No, David!, by David Shannon
On every page, the mother in this book yells No, David! as he gets into trouble, from overflowing the bathtub to picking his nose, to tracking in mud and banging the kitchen pans together. If she threw in a sweetheart here or there, maybe I wouldnt feel so bad for the kid, even though he does have jagged teeth and wicked eyes. Couldnt she just be nice, sit him down, and do a puzzle with him? Or would he eat it?
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9: The Five Chinese Brothers, by Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese
This would be a great book for teaching math if the title were changed to How Will We Execute You? Let Us Count The Ways! Instead of the village raising the five brothers who each have different magical characteristics (from swallowing the sea to holding breath to walking through fire), the villagers look for more and more ways to kill them after the accidental death of a boy. The story is obviously an allegory, but wouldnt it be better discussed in a college classroom than my toddlers bed? Hes afraid of guillotines.
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10: What Was I Scared of?, by Dr. Seuss
Perhaps the strangest of all Dr. Seuss books, this one is about a pair of pants hanging out alone in the woods. Yes. The Sneetch is at first scared, especially when the pants start riding a bicycle. But when the pants cry, he starts feeling pity and finally makes friends. With the pants. Maybe it is good to make friends with your very sad pants. The moral of the story? Drugs make you hallucinate. About pants.