I have some controversial opinions about children’s literature: I think Goodnight Moon is overrated, I dislike The Giving Tree to the point that I don’t even want to read it to my daughter, I don’t really like Love You Forever, and I don’t enjoy reading Sandra Boynton’s books aloud. I started writing this because I had read what felt like the fiftieth list of ‘books your baby’s library must have’ that included these titles (especially Goodnight bloody Moon) and thought, ‘Whyyyy? Am I the only one who hates these books and think there are hundreds and thousands of titles that are better than these classics?’
Part of this might be because I did not grow up in America. These books and authors were not part of my childhood, and I didn’t actually read any of them until after I moved to America and became a parent. I have no nostalgia at all attached to these books, no fond childhood memories to give these books extra points. So here we are. My controversial opinions, and the titles that I think are worthy substitutes in a child’s library. Let us begin with the thought and book that prompted this.
Goodnight Moon is overrated. I don’t actually hate this book. I just hate that it’s on every bloody list of books for babies. My feelings toward this book are lukewarm at best. I find it difficult to read aloud because the lack of punctuation at the beginning (before the ‘goodnights’ begin) makes it sound like one big run-on sentence and I run out of breath. The book/author doesn’t indicate HOW the book should be read aloud. I also find this book kind of boring. There are no compelling or cute characters, no plot, nothing to grab me and say, yes, this is a book to read over and over. I’m not overly fond of the illustrations either.
Goodnight books that I think are better alternatives: These have either lovely stories or a message, or cute characters, or are great for reading aloud in terms of rhyme, rhythm, and repetition:
- A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na
- Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee
- Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan
- Goodnight, Sleep Tight by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek
- Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek
Books About Generosity
I dislike The Giving Tree. The boy is incredibly ungrateful (I feel like I shouldn’t say how I REALLY feel because after all, this is a post about children’s books so my language should be clean) and the tree is an enabler. It seems like there are two lessons to take away from this: you can just keep asking and asking and asking and never saying ‘thank you’ and that is okay, and it is okay if you just give and give and give and that should make you happy. Neither of these are lessons I want to impart on my daughter. I found the ending incredibly dissatisfying.
Books about generosity, charity, and being a decent person that I think are better alternatives: I think these have much better messages about being a good citizen of the world, and some are great fun to read aloud:
- The Little Refugee by Ahn Do
- A is for Activist and Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara
- I’m Australian Too/I’m an Immigrant Too by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh
- The Smartest Giant in Town/The Spiffiest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson
Books About Parental Love
I don’t like Love You Forever very much. The backstory behind this book is heartbreaking — the author and his wife suffered two stillbirths and the book was written for those babies — and I do like the song in the book even if it is a bit sickeningly sweet. But plotwise, I find it a bit creepy, especially the middle part. Rocking a nine-year-old seems a bit odd but okay, sure. But a teenager? And then a grown man?! Who presumably has his own family (he has a baby daughter at the end of the book). What do his partner and own children think about their partner/father being rocked by an old lady? Is his wife in bed with him as this rocking takes place?
Books about parental love that I think are better alternatives: These are cute and sweet and funny without being creepy:
- We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu
- I Love You Too by Ziggy Marley and Ag Jatkowska
- I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt and Cyd Moore
- Homemade Love by bell hooks and Shane W. Evans
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
I don’t really enjoy reading aloud Sandra Boynton’s books, even though apparently one of their appeals is how fun they are to read aloud. I don’t find them fun. I don’t like the made-up words (like bee-bo in the Hippopotamus bellybutton book or pajammy in Pajama Time!). The rhymes sometimes feel forced and the rhythm isn’t always natural so reading them out loud is sometimes a challenge. I suspect my problem with ‘pajammy’ might be an accent thing — the word might work better with an American accent.
Authors who write fun rhyming books that are great to read aloud and who I prefer to Sandra Boynton:
- Mem Fox
- Julia Donaldson
- Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat
- Nancy Shaw