His Shoes Were Far Too Tight

This book is a collection of absurd poems by Edward Lear, selected from his two books of nonsense literature, “A Book of Nonsense” (1846) and “Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets” (1871). The most famous of Lear’s poems is “The Owl and the Pussycat”. Many readers who don’t know Lear will know that poem.

Perhaps because the works predate many copyright laws, many of Lear’s poems have been reprinted over the years without attribution. I recall a book of rhymes from my childhood with one his:

I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life
They do taste rather funny
But it keeps them on the knife.

This verse is sometimes attributed to Ogden Nash and sometimes to Anonymous and sometimes even to someone else who predates Lear himself.

The book was edited/selected/curated by Daniel Pinkwater. Daniel Pinkwater is known to me by his books from the 1970s, such as Lizard Music and The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. I haven’t introduced my kids to those yet.

Because the writing of His Shoes Were Far Too Tight is so old, and the illustration style is so “artistic” (i.e. the opposite of the simplistic style of many modern kids’ books, such as those Mo Willems) I thought my kids wouldn’t like it. I’ve tried Alice in Wonderland with them and they couldn’t get into it. But to my surprise, they did. The illustrations by Calef Brown are complex and interesting and the stories are at the right level of absurdity for kids – where it feels like you know what’s happening but there are also things that just don’t make sense.

My kids favorite story was that of the Pobble Who Has No Toes, and asked to hear it again the next day.

It’s a fun, silly book without much depth to it. But because the writing is old enough to be considered ‘classic’ you can feel like you’re providing your kids with sophisticated culture when you read it.

There are other collections of Lear’s poems, but this has the nice illustrations and Pinkwater intro, so is at least as nice an edition as any other.

The kids have yet to ask me what ‘runcible’ means, and that is an indicator of the absurdity of the verses. There are so many strange, hard-to-understand aspects of the rhymes that an unfamiliar word does not stand out.

Hop on Pop

Not all ‘classic’ children’s literature ages well, and not even all of Dr. Seuss’s books have aged well. Some have racist or sexist imagery that was mainstream in the ’60s and ’70s but not now.

Hop on Pop, however, has aged well. And not just from its visuals, but from its educational value as well. The repetition and rhyme, even the size of the type, makes it a book that kids want to read. When I read it aloud, the kids almost instinctively join in.

And it’s just silly enough to keep their interest while reinforcing their reading skills.

Blueberries for Sal

Price: $11.86
Was: $17.99

Some books don’t age well. The customs and styles of a certain era aren’t necessarily appealing decades later. Blueberries for Sal, however, has aged well and is just as delightful as it was when I read it in the 70s, when it had already been in print for thirty years. Perhaps it’s because the behavior of Sal is timeless and modern parents can still relate. And the depictions of the styles of the time (the car, the kitchen) become glimpses into the past rather than simply seeming outdated.

The black-and-white drawings were not so appealing to our youngest ones, who are very used to everything being in bright, full color, but the story is appealing. The concept of climbing a hill, eating food that is simply lying there to be found is perhaps the most appealing part – an activity that now seems almost fantastic in the modern world.

The Giant Jam Sandwich

This is a classic that our kids asked for again and again, even taking it to kindergarten for show-and-tell. The illustration style is unique and appealing. And the text, written in verse, makes it easy for children to follow along:

Bap gave instructions for the making of the dough.
“Mix flour from above and yeast from below.
Salt from the seaside, water from the spout.
Now thump it! Bump it! Bang it about!”

The book we got came with a CD, so the kids can listen in the car or follow along with the pictures.

The story (spoiler alert) concludes with the asphyxiation of 3,999,997 wasps. The idea of so many dead bugs did not bother us or the kids, but might be alarming for some.

The Monster at the End of This Book

My kids were scared of this book at first and it took a lot of convincing to read it. After they saw the twist ending however, they asked for it over and over, proud that they had conquered their fear. A classic.

An interesting dynamic occurs after the first few pages, when Grover begins begging the reader to not turn the page. Sometimes the kids think we shouldn’t turn the page and just put the book down, honoring Grover’s wishes. And other times they gleefully demand we turn the page even though we’re being asked not to. This gives the kids some agency and a sense of violating the rules, in a harmless way.

This is a fun one to read aloud because Grover gets so emotional and worked up over the course of the story.

The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown

This was my dad’s favorite book when he was a kid, but I didn’t know it until I happened to see it among a set of Little Golden Books at the grocery store.

Little Golden Books were a big part of my childhood but lately the brand has been diminished a bit since they now let just about any story be published with that distinctive gold spine. But the classics are still worth reading and still appeal to modern kids.

This is now one of my favorites as well. Margaret Wise Brown has such a distinctive rhythm and this may be her best work. The words on each page dance. Perhaps my favorite page in any book is this one:

“And suddenly Brush woke up and Hush woke up.
It was morning.
They crawled out of bed into a big bright world.
The sky was wild with sunshine”

The illustrations are also lovely and strange. Just a wonderful book.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Price: $6.19
Was: $8.99

This is a strange book and I can’t understand why it’s a classic, but it is. We got multiple copies as gifts when the kids were born, and we got a bit of a nostalgia rush when we looked at it for the first time since we were kids ourselves. But I don’t think the kids liked it much. I don’t recall them ever asking for it when we read stories at bedtime.

Margaret Wise Brown has a unique voice and her rhythm is evident in Goodnight Moon, but this is not one of her best. Yet, it seems every American kid needs to know it.