On Kids’ Books I Tolerate, or Reviewing Juvenile Lit

We don’t have a TV. We piggyback off a friend’s Hulu and Netflix accounts for the finest educational and edutainment programming (yeah, Dinosaur Train! Dr. Scott‘s the effing man!), but books are our main form of entertainment (shhhh… Don’t tell the kids about the gaming we do when they’re asleep).

There are dozens of kids’ books in our collection. A lot of it is Dr. Seuss or Thomas the Tank Engine. A lot of it. I’m cool with The Railway Series, the original Thomas stories by Rev. W. Awdry, but I fucking hate the new Thomas. And Seuss books, while good for the kids, gives me more opportunity for snark than children’s material should (think dirty, inappropriate renditions that are unsuitable for a PG crowd). There’s some Ladybug Girl and a host of LEGO Mixel books in there, along with a fuckton of Eric Carles and a healthy dose of children’s encyclopedias.

Juvenile literature can be a minefield of crap: visually beautiful but non-nutritive; educational but ugly; pretty and also pretty annoying. Not everyone has the time, patience, energy, or School Library Journal reviews to weave past the bombs and get to the promised land of kid books that won’t make adult readers want to bang their heads against the wall. These are some of the titles in our kids’ bookcase that don’t piss me off.

(Please pay no mind to the dirty covers, duct taped spines, chew marks, and marker scribbles. These are books read, played with, and read again by actual children. Actual children, by their very nature, are gross and accidentally destructive creatures. If you’ve got kids and kid books in your home and your books don’t show signs of active use, also known as “love”, there’s simply not enough reading going on.)


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle. It’s got your colors, your animals, and opportunities for improv. A true hit with the under 6 crowd.

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. This book has been around forever and there are STILL people who haven’t heard of it!!! How is this possible?!?!?!

At Gleason’s Gym
, by Ted Lewin. This was the first book I bought for my then-unborn son. I had no interest in registering at baby supply stores or planning a nursery. My goal was to start building a library. As you can probably tell, I’m quite nontraditional and care little for things like fairy tales and the typical Disney shit. None of that for my kids! No tales of non-self-rescuing princesses in distress for them. My kids are going to listen to stories about multicultural fight clubs and learn the cadence and rhythm of speech using the onomatopoeia of the ring!

The Fat Cat Sat on the Mat, by Nurit Karlin. A cute rhyming story that is entertaining when read normally, but gets a better reaction when performed with character voices. We’re a bit partial to fat cats in our home because we’ve got one of our own. Meet Henry, who obviously refused to give up his status as “THE baby” when our first human kid was born.


Shell, by Alex Arthur. The kids pour through this trying to match the shells they’ve found at the beach with those pictured in the book, and all I can think is “Mmmm…. that would go great with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of black pepper…”


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A Book of Sleep
, by Il Sung Na. This is a beautifully illustrated book about an owl’s flight past the many animals who sleep at night. We have a lot of books on sleep. My kids need and want sleep, but fight it like they’re evangelicals warding off the damned devil. Sadly, this book has never gotten my kids to calm down enough for sleep.

Goodnight Darth Vader, by Jeffrey Brown. Daddy Darth reads little Leia and Luke about all the creatures in the galaxy going to sleep. I like this because it features an archivist who, despite being an old lady with a bun, is not holding a cat.


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Dinosaur vs. the Potty
by Bob Shea, is a really cute story about a dinosaur who absolutely, positively, 100% denies that he needs to go to the potty. It’s obviously written by a parent who’s been there.

Finally, Ocean: A Photicular Book, by Dan Kainen and Carol Kaufman. I picked it up at The Strand a few months ago. None of us have actually read it yet. We’re just content looking at the pictures.


3 thoughts on “On Kids’ Books I Tolerate, or Reviewing Juvenile Lit

  1. On “fighting [sleep]… like they’re evangelicals warding off the damned devil” I am so glad (and sorry) to hear I am not alone in this battle. Perhaps you should check out the salient children’s book: “Go the F…K to Sleep” by Adam Mansbach? (Warning: not intended for actual children.) You can find it on the devil’s website (a/k/a Amazon):


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