Archive for the ‘children’s literature’ Category

Circle-and-Line Whistle, Three-Two

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

I want my yellow whistle, you know, the circle-and-line one, three-two, I want it right now.

Andrei, you can try to look for it some more, but mommy is not going to look for it any more. I tried to help you find it, but I ran out of ideas of places where the whistle might be. If you really want a whistle, maybe we can buy one in that store next to the train station, they must have whistles.

We can’t go to that store and buy a whistle, a circle-and-line whistle, because eighteen hunters came from a forest and killed all the stores and all the whistles. They really did.

So, what does that mean? We have to look some more for your whistle?

Yeah, the hunters killed all the stores and all the whistles. Read more…


Bye-Bye, Brothers Grimm and Bambi…for Now

December 3, 2013 3 comments

I loved Brothers Grimm stories, I grew up with them. Little Red Riding Hood, The Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, my childhood would have been so different without them. I can’t remember how old I was when I leafed through those books, or maybe even read them (if that was at the time when I was able to read), over and over again. I was there, part of those pictures, part of those pages; more than thirty years later, I remember the illustrations, I remember the tone of that world.

When my mother sent us Brothers Grimm stories (and some other stories in Serbian, such as Bambi), I read them to Andrei. Since he was one and a half, maybe two. On and off. There were months when he cared for “those” books, and there were months when he didn’t.


The other night he pulls two books from “that” pile. Hansel and Gretel. And Bambi. I start reading. In Serbian. Andrei understands quite a bit, but I usually follow his facial expressions, and if I think he looks confused, I usually repeat the sentence in English, ask him if he knows what specific words mean, provide the English equivalents if needed, and then we move on.

So I read Hansel and Gretel. The second sentence into the story: the two children overhear their parents saying that they are going to take the children into the woods and leave them there to fend for themselves.  Andrei looks confused so I provide the translation, cringing. I go on to remind him that this is just a story, and that in real life people don’t do that (well, only rarely, but I don’t say that), they love their children and they cannot imagine their life without their children.

While I am saying this, several thoughts come into my mind: The reality-fiction line is really blurry for my four-year-old boy. His separation anxiety is still pretty strong so we frequently have to remind him: We will be back. You have fun with your friends, and mommy and daddy will be back in a few hours. Does Andrei really need to hear about parents abandoning their children? Now, when we are still working through his separation anxiety issues?

We get through Hansel and Gretel, I convince him that witches don’t exist in real life, only in books, but as soon as we put the book down, Andrei puts Bambi into my hands. We read about Bambi’s zest for life, (Andrei has always loved Bambi), but then – there is that terrible morning when hunters show up. Not good, I know. What are they doing?, Andrei asks. Why are they killing animals?

I don’t know much about hunting, I don’t like hunting, but I know that there must be a way to somehow justify hunting, although not in the world of a four-year-old, so I am not going to even try. Why did they kill the mother?, my son asks for the third time, tears in his eyes. Someone should come to kill them.

Okay, this is a complex question: Is violence a way to fight violence? I respect my four-year-old son’s sense of justice. Maybe, I say, and continue to read…until we get to the fire scene…somehow we get to the last page, and my son immediately turns the book back to the hunter scene. Why did they kill the mother?


I talked to him, although I can’t quite remember what I said. That sometimes people kill. Maybe something else. So many thoughts went through my head: When do you teach your kid about the real world, violence, greed, and all? I guess not at the age of four.

We have read sad books before, and Andrei got teary-eyed here and there. I thought that it’s important to expose children to all sorts of different emotions, sadness included, so they know how to live with the emotion until the emotion dissolves.

That night, after Andrei fell asleep, I put many of Brothers Grimm stories away. Bambi too. For an indefinite period of time. I know we will go back to them. I think these stories are important. But we might need to wait a few years.


Have you introduced your kids to Brothers Grimm stories? What was your experience?

Children’s Literature

March 20, 2012 4 comments

Why do I find it so hard and time-consuming to find decent books for my two-and-a-half-year-old son?

OK, I am not talking about the books in Serbian. For those books, I rely on my mother’s taste. Sometimes I wish she sent us some books that met the following criteria: 1) not a Brothers Grimm fairy tale; 2) not an Aesop fable.  Despite the fact that I love The Brothers Grimm’s and Aesop’s stories  (I grew up with them), I’d like to be able to introduce my son to a piece of contemporary, possibly imaginative and capturing, piece of Serbian children’s literature. But, ultimately, I am grateful for whatever books I receive from my mother. I use whatever tools I can think of (different voices, my hands, etc.) to keep Andrei’s interest in the books.

But this post is really about books in English. Just regular children’s books that fill libraries and bookstores. What puzzles me is how much time I spend in libraries and bookstores to eventually find two or three decent books that are appropriate for Andrei’s age.

The first problem is a matter of logistics. How does one organize “picture books”? Usually, they are called just “picture books,” I guess because they have pictures. OK, that makes sense. However, I feel there is a big difference between the books I read to Andrei when he was one and the books I read to him now when he is two and a half. And, in a year or two, I imagine I’ll be reading him some quite different picture books because he will be able to handle so many more words for each picture he sees. So, it seems logical to me that “picture books” could be organized by age (maybe something like 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, whatever). The bottom line is that it would be incredibly helpful if there was a section with books that included a single line/picture, and then another one that included books with maybe a paragraph of text/picture, and finally a section with books that included multiple paragraphs/picture.

Finding the right content for my son I find even harder. Now, remember, my son is two and a half and quite distractible in an environment such as the library or bookstore, and with no interest in selecting any books himself, although with a very refined  taste once we are at home reading. So, I am the one whose job is to choose the right books. Now, what is my definition of the “right,” good, decent children’s books? Honestly, I expect the same combination of qualities that I look for in the books I select for myself. A fresh, imaginative story that will take me to a new mental and emotional place; imaginative, poetic language that will delight me, surprise me, make me feel like I touched on a place I have never touched on before. And in Andrei’s case, I’d like to see pictures that have life in them and evoke interest, compassion, connection. Read more…

The End of 2011 – Jambalaya in My Head

December 13, 2011 2 comments

This morning, once again, my son told me, in a very serious voice, that he had a bear sleeping in his bellybutton. A few days ago, he had a bear sleeping in his belly. A week before that he had a fly in his ear. When I asked what the fly was doing in his ear, he just repeated,  A fly in my ear, a fly in my ear, like there was no reason to ask any questions, For God’s sake, woman, can’t you understand, a fly is in my ear, isn’t that enough information? (OK, this was my interpretation of his refusal to offer more information). But when I asked if the fly was maybe dancing in his ear, he said, The fly is dancing, the fly is dancing (he loves to repeat things) and based on his intonation, it sounded like he allowed the possibility of the fly dancing in his ear, although he wasn’t totally convinced the fly was really dancing in his ear. But what he said was enough of an answer to my question. Read more…

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