Written by: Jenn
Picture it, a calm classroom of 20 three to four years old (I’m not making this up, they were actually calm) all sitting on the reading rug ready and eager for story time. A seasoned teacher (I had been teaching for over 10 years at this point) excitedly waited to start reading a book, that she found tucked away in a corner of the teacher closet, by one of her favorite children’s book authors. Fast forward 2 minutes. The calm preschoolers are rolling around the floor, half of them are laugh-yelling and talking about “privates”. A quarter of them are sitting in fear and developing a fear for bakers and ovens, while luckily, the last quarter stopped paying attention after the first page.
The book was In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, the creative mind behind Where the Wild Things Are, a classic. How could things have gone wrong? Short version, a little boy goes to sleep and has a naked adventure that includes scary looking bakers trying to bake him. Nothing stirs up a group of preschoolers quite like an illustration of a naked child. Do not get me wrong, exploration and awareness are an important part of a child’s early development, but story time is not the best time and place. I was shocked, surprised and disappointed in myself. Reading time was a disaster and if you know preschoolers, once they are wound up, it can be difficult to get them to wind back down.
I decided to do a little research on this book after my #storytimefail. It turns out that the book caused some controversy when it was released back in 1970 and was actually banned in some places in the United States. I was starting to piece together why it was left way in the back of the teacher closet. Now, Maurice Sendak is extremely talented and In the Night Kitchen won quite a few honors in 1970-71. However, it just was not the right book to read to a group of preschoolers.
Although it wasn’t my best teacher moment, it taught me something important that I want to share with all of you. Read through the story and look at the pictures before you read it to the littles! That being said, everyone has different thoughts and opinions on what is appropriate and inappropriate. Therefore, the second step in choosing a children’s book to read, is to consider your audience. Are you reading to a group of children or your own children? If you are reading to your own children you can gauge what your family deems appropriate. If you are reading to a group of children it is important to keep in mind that different families have different beliefs and values. If you are having a hard time deciding if something is inappropriate, better to put it back on the shelf.
Now don’t get me wrong! I LOVE funny children’s books. They combine two of my favorite things, illustrations and adult humor. These books tend to reflect our adult thoughts on things like bedtime, forced social interactions and societal rules we all follow, but think are unnecessary or at the very least questionable. Go the F**** to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes and Little Golden Book Grumpy Cat books illustrated by Steph Laberis are hilarious and some of my favorite picture books. I just wouldn’t read them to my classes. Would I read them to my own children if I had any? Definitely the Grumpy Cat Books, assuming my children would have my same sense of humor.
The moral of the blog is, read before you read to others.
The good news is, silly grown ups, picture books aren’t just for kids!