What’s that they say about a child’s laughter?
There truly is nothing quite like it, I’m convinced.
With both our little guy and the new little lady, we’ve been amazed at how early children start to shine through with their happiness, with smiles that light up an entire house with the mere stretch of a muscle.
I’ll never forget how infectious the little guy’s laugh would get once he’d start. One of the most vivid memories being the laugh riot that would ensue from him when I’d read The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems. Specifically two pages broken down into a series of small panels where Pigeon will find anything and everything wrong with the the bath – “too hot! too cold! too much water! too little water!” It was the kind of laugh fit that a stand-up comedian dreams of for their material.
And silly as it may sound, it just made me so incredibly happy through sheer proximity to that kind of joy. And now I get to do it all over again.
Our little lady’s laughs have gone from what sound like a little cough to an actual, audible laugh, wide smile across her face, at things that just seem pedestrian to you and I, but to her, are hilarity.
The other day I sang her name. That’s it. Just sang her name to her. It was slightly to the tune of Lovely from the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but I’m no Sondheim, so that’s all it really was – her name. And she smiled, cooed, and then giggled the whole time.
And my heart soared.
There are times when I question what life is supposed to be. Am I at the right job? Am I doing what I should be? Are my talents being put to use? Am I being all that I can be?
But when I see the smile on the face of that baby girl, or that little boy, when I hear the uproarious sound of laughter come from those grinning faces, it’s hard to not catch some of that joy in its purest essence. And when I do, I realize I’m exactly where I should be – there, in that moment, to bear witness to this unadulterated, happiness.
Coinciding with my recent post about great children’s books that will keep adults entertained at story-time, I was lucky enough to be invited back recently to the mid-morning Lifestyle program, Mass Appeal to talk briefly about those books and the authors who make them so much fun for both parents and kids.
We had a spot of trouble getting there, as we got on the thruway only to have the check-engine light come on for my car. With my wife’s car having its own trouble at the time, we had to get off the thruway at the next available exit, turn around, and borrow my mother-in-law’s car before getting back on the thruway. It added an extra 45 minutes of time to our trip and I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we were going to make it in time for the segment.
Fortunately, all went well and we made it with plenty of time to spare and nothing owed to a lead foot. I apparently managed to make it without breaking speed limits or rules of the road.
The even greater news? For both the trip there and back, our little guy did phenomenal with the travel. Even when he wasn’t napping, he kept himself entertained with books, toys, or just chattering with us about some of his favorite words.
I really had a ball and where else can I say that my fellow guests included a baby alligator and a parrot?!
We not only talked about the books but I also got the chance to play quasi-game show host and quiz the program hosts, Ashley and Seth on some ‘dorky pop-culture trivia.’ I even pulled a jacket from an old Halloween costume (The Riddler) out of mothballs to wear on air for it.
It was a lot of fun and though our time in the area was limited, we did squeak in a brief reunion with some old friends and THEIR little one, who I’m relieved to say, at nine months old, did not seem frightened by our little guy’s Frankenstein-like onslaught of hugs.
While it won’t let me embed the video, please feel free to give the segment a watch here, if you like: http://wwlp.com/2014/05/23/great-reads-activities-for-toddlers/
Storytime is a wonderful and strong tradition to have in your household, and the earlier you start with your kids the better.
We’ve made storytime a nightly habit in our house, starting the week our little guy came home from the hospital. Now almost two, it has become routine for him to go to the bookshelf, grab a few books he wants and then bring them into our room for a family reading on the big bed.
Needless to say in that time, we’ve amassed more than a few that not only he likes, but my wife and I love to read as well.
As much as I often get nostalgic and wish for ‘simpler times’ or the always-idealized ‘old days,’ one of the great things about the current age we live in is that children’s books have come a long way from “Goodnight, Moon,” which, let’s be honest, is not one of my favorites.
These days, children’s books can be just as enjoyable for parents to read as the kids, so these are just a few suggestions that entertain parents as well as the kids that you might want to add to your family bookshelf if you haven’t already.
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” & “The Grouchy Ladybug” by Eric Carle
It’s the 45th anniversary of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” this year and this book helps to teach days of the week and successive numbers through the timeline of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. It’s one of those classics that is just educational, fun, and absolutely beautiful, as are all of Carle’s books.
“The Grouchy Ladybug,” as her name states, is a bad-tempered bug that doesn’t say please, doesn’t say thank you, and has quite the ego, thinking she’s better than everyone she encounters. The story follows her journey and teaches about concepts like size, time and, of course, good manners.
If you end up really loving Eric Carle’s books (and how can you not?), take a road trip to Amherst, MA to visit the wonderful Eric Carle Museum right over in Amherst. You’ll find his original artwork, as well as get to view the work of guest illustrators on exhibit firsthand. This place is like a mecca for our family.
Books by Mo Willems
Mo Willems is a writer and animator and worked on Sesame Street for several years, where he won Emmy Awards, as well as shows on Cartoon Network. He has written so many wonderful books, but these are some of my favorites.
The Elephant and Piggie series – Gerald the Elephant (named after his favorite singer, Ella Fitzgerald) and Piggie are best friends and through these books deal with issues of friendship. Sometimes it’s separation anxiety, other times it’s being nervous about getting invited to a party, or sharing a new toy or ice cream. It’s all done in a conversational, comic book type style with word balloons and they’re just a lot of fun, each with its own great, positive message.
The Pigeon books – They star, obviously, The Pigeon, who usually wants something. Sometimes it’s to stay up late, or to get a puppy, or to drive the bus, and it’s always something he’s not supposed to do, giving the child, who oftentimes is being told “no,” the opportunity and power to say no themselves. These are highly interactive, so kids love them and parents can enjoy the humor, too.
That is Not a Good Idea – It’s done in a style of silent films, with a great twist ending and deals with just what the title says – not so good ideas.
This book asks the question “How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Cats” and it’s just one of a wonderful series by Jane Yolen. Each book teaches manners and the proper way to act in different situation, this one, of course being if you have cats at home and the proper ways to treat them. There’s books for dogs, parties, playing with friends, cleaning your room; this goes on and on. Great lessons and great images by Mark Teague with a dinosaur name hidden on each page. Many of these types of dinosaurs are well beyond the common ones we come to know, which provides an additional educational element.
Good News Bad News by Jeff Mack
It’s about two friends with very different views on life – one optimistic and one not so much. When children are emergent and anxious to start reading, this is a great book. There’s only 5 total words in it. Those words are repeated, so they learn them better and can eventually read on their own. And the story itself is just funny and touching, and shows why it’s nice to look on the bright side of life.
I Wish That I had Duck Feet and Gerald McBoing Boing by Dr. Seuss
Sure, there are more popular or well-known books by Dr. Seuss, but these are two that really have great lessons. Both are about being yourself.
In “I Wish That I Had Duck Feet,” a little boy daydreams about what it would be like to have different animal parts but realizes the downside of each.
In “Gerald McBoing Boing,” a little boy named Gerald can’t speak but is born with the ability to make incredible sounds when he opens his mouth. He gets made fun of by others for his difference, being called Gerald McBoing Boing by bullies, but it’s about Gerald finding his place in the world and being happy with who he is that ultimately finds him happiness.
Click, Clack, Moo – Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
We have the collection with the first three books of the series.
Cronin writes these to be entertaining and hilarious, and this book details the trouble of poor Farmer Brown as the animals in his barn begin to type and start becoming literate.
When that happens, they have more bargaining and leveraging power with the farmer when he demands things like milk, eggs, etc. It’s a great book that really teaches about give and take and even peaceful protest.
Bill the Boy Wonder by Marc Tyler Nobleman
The kids will get sucked in by the beautiful art and images of Batman and Robin by artist Ty Templeton, but the well-researched story by Nobleman tells the real-life story of Bill Finger, the man who created most of Batman’s villains, decided he should wear a cowl and gloves. It was his ideas that Batman what we know today and sadly didn’t get the credit for it. A great true story told in the form of a children’s book.
How can I tell, you ask?
Because although we have had it for roughly six months or so and read it on occasion, the little guy now can not walk away from his book shelf or room without grabbing Mo Willems’ “That is Not a Good Idea” off the shelf and with boundless energy, thrusting it into my hands, pointing at it furiously and making noises that tell me without a doubt, “read this to me now, dad!”
The long and short of it is that what seems like a pretty naive Goose accepts a walk and dinner invitation by a chimney-hatted fox and, as you can guess, what happens along the way is not a good idea. It’s told in a style reminiscent of old silent films, which hits all the right chords with this old film buff. We picked up the book the night I did a Mo Willems storytime at our Barnes and Noble last Spring and it had only come out occasionally, amid some other Willems books like Pigeon or Elephant and Piggie, and a host of other books on the shelf.
As of late, though we’ve read “That is Not a Good Idea” roughly 3-4 times on any given day. Whether it’s bedtime (which he sometimes wants a repeat reading), midday, pre-naptime or when he wakes up, we have gotten to know The Fox, The Goose, and that silent-film style world very well as of late.
Not that I mind. I love the book too. And at this point, I think I’ve got all our voices down, and have started doing a little bit at the beginning for the title page, where I tell him to ‘start the movie projector’ and we both crank our hands as if starting an old film, accompanied by some noises for the old piano-style intro music.
It’s fun, it’s a breeze to read, it’s incredibly entertaining both in writing and illustrations, so it’s a blast for both of us to read. It’s just fun to see where his tastes go and when, as this adventure continues.
This summer, we were visiting friends in Massachusetts (for a baby shower of their own little guy) and were just a stone’s throw away from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. With some careful planning (and some early departure time from home) we made it with plenty of time to spare and before the baby shower, got a chance to check out not only the amazing art of Eric Carle, but the museum’s limited exhibit of the art of Mo Willems.
Aside from the stunning visuals of these great authors and illustrators, the museum kept the fun factor going with scavenger hunts. In the case of Eric Carle, you’re given a list of items (a gorilla, perhaps, or an umbrella) that you check off along the way as you take in all the beautiful work around you. For the Mo Willems exhibit, it was a hunt for different color variations of The Pigeon, peeking out and around from art on the walls.
What also struck me was just how truly wonderful it is that this is recognized for the fine art it is. There’s that age old question, ‘but is it art?’ Yes. Yes, it is.
Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside of the actual exhibition halls, but we did get the chance to take some nice photos in the main hallway and of course, with our buddy, The Pigeon.
It was really phenomenal to see the evolution of pages from sketches to line drawings, to full-color pages as that we’re used to for characters like Elephant, Piggie and Pigeon, and even at just one year old, our little guy immediately recognized his favorite characters and was pointing and making noises to bring out attention to ones he liked.
Children’s Book Art is fascinating. A good story draws us in, but lets face it, whether we are a child or an adult, it is the art that grabs our attention in the first place to make us want to peer open that cover and see what adventure awaits us inside.
To see this recognized as an art form with its own museum created a truly happy feeling inside me, as if this was some type of tangible proof that there are many folks out there who feel the same way, and felt children’s books and their art deserved respect and regard.
It was a wonderful time, and we of course, left the museum gift shop with a new addition to our Elephant and Piggie Collection – “I Am Invited to a Party!”
Aside from dinnertime and bath time, it’s the other consistent that’s needed for a complete wrap-up of our day. We started very early reading to the little guy (in utero) and have carried it over practically every night since. In fact, we’re now at a point where, even though he’s not walking just yet, he’s crawling over to his bookshelf in his room and pulling off a book or two when we bring him in for bed. He knows what time it is and what comes with it.
And one of the most frequent authors gracing our bookshelf and storytimes is Mo Willems.
I came across his work by pure accident early on in this adventure of parenthood, when I picked up “We Are in a Book” with Elephant and Piggie. Little did I know what an amazing world of doodles that was going to send us rocketing into for both baby and parents alike.
Sometimes I worry I’m always using the Mo Willems books as a go-to at night, but it’s because I just love reading them so much. And now that the little monkey is one year old, I can say that over that year, no other books have made him giggle and react aloud the way a Mo Willems book does.
That one Elephant and Piggie book has quickly grown this past year into a good portion of our bookshelf, along with several Pigeon books (my personal favorite), along with their stuffed doppelgangers.
I can’t quite put my finger on what makes his work just so darn appealing to all of us. There’s the obvious humor, as the books are all hilarious and relatable in their situations and emotions, whether you be one or one hundred. Is it any wonder he won Emmy Awards for his work on Sesame Street? Then there’s the art – simple in its doodle-like manner that you’re automatically put at ease and drawn in. With his word-bubble dialogue for some of his books, it becomes more like acting out a play than anything else.
We’re such fans of Mo Willems’ work that several months ago, I jumped at the chance when my job as a TV journalist gave me the opportunity to do storytimes at our local Barnes and Noble. It was usually a once a year event at Christmas reading The Polar Express alongside my good friend and Meteorologist, Bill. When they gave me the chance to do another stortyime, this time a night of Mo Willems, I thought I was going to practically beat down the doors of the store. I couldn’t wait! And when the time came, what a night we had!
I got to break out all of the character voices I’ve accumulated while reading to our little guy over the past year, and the kids who showed up at Barnes and Noble seemed to enjoy it, although I don’t think anyone enjoyed it as much as I did. I had to explain to the kids that we all have our own voices for characters when we read, so mine may not be what they’re used to for Pigeon, or Piggie, etc, but they got it and seemed to laugh along anyway. (For the record, MY Pigeon voice is based on the voice Meg and I give to our cat, Winston. Just the right blend of demanding child and mr. sassypants.) We were having so much fun, I think we ended up reading four books in total instead of the one or two advertised. I even read a new one called “This is Not a Good Idea!” which is set up like an old silent film. I couldn’t resist and we ended up buying it that night.
Our own little guy even got involved. When I introduced him to the crowd as my son and the one I usually read to at night, he stood up and held out his arms as if to shout ‘my people! my people!’ (yup, that’s him to the left with my wife stifling her laughter at his ridiculousness) What a little ham. 🙂
But I digress. If you haven’t yet picked up a Mo Willems book, give it a try. Your little kids will thank you and you’re likely to love storytime even more. And if you ever make it to the northeast, maybe you can add to your parenthood bucket list a trip to see his work at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA. We haven’t been able to make it yet, but I’ll tell you, we’ve had numerous conversations to figure out just when we can make it happen. It’s like a mecca of Mo. 🙂 We’ll get there…even if I have to find a Pigeon to drive us there in a bus.