One of parenthood’s little pleasures is exploring the ever-widening world of children’s books and having the chance to expose my kids to favorites, old and new. Occasionally, though, I long for the moment when my children will be old enough to enjoy some of the masterworks that form so much of the literary canon I know and love.
My prayers have been (mostly) answered. While browsing around a bookstore this past weekend, I came across a series of books by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver called BabyLit. The books feature classic novels written as “primers” on various topics - Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a camping primer; Moby-Dick an ocean primer, etc. The books are colorfully illustrated, and offers kids a series of words related to original classic (Pride and Prejudice is a counting primer – two rich gentlemen; four marriage proposals; nine fancy ball gowns). I flipped through a few of the books, gleeful at my discovery of such a neat way to introduce my children to important literature. But then I noticed a couple of titles that piqued my interest for a different reason.
There, next to A Christmas Carol and Alice in Wonderland, sat Jane Eyre and Anna Karenina. Yes, the Jane Eyre with the arsonist madwoman locked in the attic. Yes, the Anna Karenina with the love triangle and suicidal lead character. (Thomas the Tank Engine cameo, anyone?)
At first, I was shocked. Both of those books are pretty dark in spots and seemed, initially, like questionable titles to add to a series of baby board books. But then, I understood. In literature, as in life, darkness is common. What better way to prepare children for the harsh realities of their soon-to-be adult lives than by exposing them to some of our grittier literary feats, grim though their subjects may be?
My only wish now is that the authors would go further. It’s clear that they fear the controversy that might come from opening the minds of two year-olds to the kind of hard-hitting truths great fiction is known for exposing. Fine then. I’ll be the first one into the breach. Here are your next projects, BabyLit. You’re welcome.
- Mr. Narrator and his close friend Tyler have tons of fun, playing games like “Stop Hitting Yourself,” Operation (Mayhem Edition), and “What Shape is This Bruise?” But when they notice their other friends succumbing to the lure of endless material acquisition, they rush to the rescue with their handy-dandy chemistry set! Will they save the day? Read to find out!
- Sample Vocabulary: Insomnia, Explosives, Support Group, Existential Despair, Punch, Kick, Mayhem.
- A dad and his boy go on a mysterious adventure. They camp, hunt, explore, cower, and weep their way through each day, all while playing tag with some bullies (roving bands of inhuman cannibals) who sure seem like they’re up to no good (insofar as the concept of goodness retains its meaning in an amoral post-apocalyptic wasteland).
- Sample Vocabulary: Apocalypse, Fire, Walking, Soda, Walking, Maniacs, Walking, Boat, Endurance.
- All of Patrick’s friends keep forgetting his name, and boy, does that make him mad! He dresses in his best clothes, packs his lunchbox with only the best food, and even shares his premium embossed business cards with them, but they still forget. Patrick comes up with a devious scheme to make sure they pay him more attention. Will it work? Read to find out!
- Sample Vocabulary: Wall Street, Prostitutes, Murder, Huey Lewis, Business Cards, Armani, ATM, Murder.
- Ned Stark is a responsible, hard-working fellow who loves peace and quiet, but when his zany friend King Robert comes to visit and gives Ned a promotion, the Stark clan is whisked off to far away King’s Landing. The ups and downs (and malice and cruelty and meaninglessness) of day to day life in their new home makes for one thrilling adventure! (Note: includes detachable character heads. Mix and match!)
- Sample Vocabulary: Sword, Honor, Disembowelment, Snow, Stab, Push, Betrayal, Slice.
- Dorian is shy and quiet until he gets to hang out with a group of cool kids and starts to worry that he won’t get to have as much fun if he starts to look older. To keep himself young and cute, he makes an evil wish and soon discovers that his portrait is changing to show all of his naughty behaviors. After awhile, Dorian starts to feel bad about all of his uh-ohs and tries to make things right. (Note: includes water color set and brush. Paint at your own risk.)
- Sample Vocabulary: Brush, Canvas, Frame, Portrait, Lust, Debauchery, Irredeemable Evil, Madness.
Alright BabyLit, that gives you a start. But I hope you don’t think that this lets you off the hook. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I won’t stand for the coddling of our children any longer! You are not Seuss, or Sendak, or your precious Eric Carle. Your board books must bring the dark, gritty truth of reality to kids everywhere. Let’s do this.
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