I remember for my high school graduation, one of my cousins gave me “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss as a gift.
At the time, I thought it was such a novel idea. “A children’s book for an adult (kind of)! Who’da thought?”
It wasn’t until later that I realized that Barnes & Noble actually had a small section dedicated to children’s books as graduation gifts. And it hasn’t been until the last few months that I’ve been reminded in a similar way how practical children’s books can be to adults as learning tools not just for the children themselves.
Unfortunately, the simple lessons these books teach us can also be pretty easy to forget sometimes.
My wife and I have tried to make a habit out of reading to our seven-month-old daughter regularly. Obviously, her understanding of what exactly is going on in these books is pretty limited (my daughter’s, not my wife’s), so we’re kind of reading to ourselves to a degree. It’s nice when we get a smile out of our daughter or when she reaches out and touches the illustrations.
And as of late, she mostly just tries to eat the books. But the lessons in a good children’s book really don’t apply just to the children. They apply to anyone — most importantly, the person reading the book, setting the example for the child being read to.
A few of the classics come to mind. Max is sent to his room without dinner for being a bad boy in what is often considered among the top children’s books of all time: “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Instead of telling his mom he’s sorry, he ships off to a fantastical world in his own bedroom where he becomes the king of all wild things, partakes in a wild rumpus and then ships the Wild Things off to their own beds without dinner before coming back to reality — where his mother has forgiven him for his previous misdeeds nonetheless, placing a bowl of hot soup in his room for him to eat for dinner.
In “The Little Engine That Could,” we learn the value of hard work and perseverance. “The Giving Tree” teaches us about unconditional love. And newer characters created by Mo Willems, Elephant and Piggie, offer our little ones — and ourselves — insight into what it’s like to treat our peers with respect.
So I was encouraged recently when I heard that we had a local option available for my wife and I to read to our daughter.
Rose Nigro recently self-published her first children’s book — “A Duck’s Tail.”
It’s about a story you’ve probably heard before, as the Big Duck on Flanders Road is somewhat of a local legend in the area. As it should be; it is on the National Register of Historic Places. A vestige of the area’s past as one of the world leaders in duck farming, the 20-foot-tall building was first built on West Main Street in Riverhead and later moved to Flanders where it stood for over 50 years.
But as development threatened its existence, the duck was purchased by Suffolk County and moved to county land further south on Route 24.
Following pushback from the community, the duck later moved back to its longtime home in Flanders after the county stepped in and bought the land where it sits today.
The author said she first wrote it as a regular story, but “wasn’t impressed,” so put it into rhyme to catch the attention of kids.
I doubt my daughter understands the rhyme scheme too well, or sees the look of sadness on the duck’s face — and later on, the smile — in some of the illustrations.
But I do see them. And the message about residents’ efforts to bring the duck back to its home in Flanders, and how people felt when it landed back at its current home resonates with me.
Underlying themes of perseverance, community and teamwork ring throughout the book. Ms. Nigro herself believes the book points to the results of local political action.
Like many things I’m finding out about parenthood, maybe the messages in children’s books are just something I never really thought about too much until I picked one up and started reading to my daughter.
“Where the Wild Things Are” isn’t just about a kid who got sent up to his room without dinner. And “A Duck’s Tail” isn’t just about a duck that gets moved from place to place. These are lessons meant for us to learn from as well. Maybe “children’s books” should just be called, “books.”