June 11, 2012
Many great picture books for young children are existential at root. (The works of the late Maurice Sendak are merely one notable example.) Of course, it's the point at which that existentialism meets the characteristics of your actual kid that's most joyful—and, when the kid himself seems to recognize the concurrence, interesting as well.
A new favorite of our three-year-old's is a title that came out a couple of months ago: U.K.-based illustrator Chris Haughton's Oh No, George! It's as simple as is it expressive: Before going out for a while, the owner of George the dog tells him to be good. And George determines that he will be good. He so wants to be good, after all.
But with that tasty-looking cake on the table and the cat to be chased and all, temptation ends up winning out again and again—and before long, George has trashed the place. But he feels terrible about it—Haughton's rendering of ashamed George is particularly evocative—and after promising his owner to do better next time, he does manage to proudly resist temptation...for a while, anyway...
Now, the previous two paragraphs would also serve, more or less, as a description of a day with three-year-old Griffin this spring. (Even some of the specifics are awfully similar.) So it's been fascinating to watch Griff slowly but surely fall in love with Oh No, George!, to the point where it's currently his favorite bedtime read. I suppose it's really the same throughout our reading lives: We look to find ourselves in the literature we love.
And sure, I'm allowing myself to hope he takes the lesson of the book to heart at some point. (Another part of me fears I'm missing the point and figures perhaps I should be the one learning a lesson here.) But either way, Oh No, George is a delight to both of us.
[Cover image courtesy of Candlewick Press]