My son is two years old, and like many children, he loves to be read to. (big aside – I am amazed at how much children love to be read to, when I’m at playgroup with the Boy and we are reading books, we will always attract two or three other kids who we often don’t even know, who come right in for a listen to whatever I happen to be reading, it’s amazing how much they crave it). I love reading to him too. It’s a special time where he cuddles right up, stops moving and I get a little snuggle with my boy who usually likes to be on the move. That being said, by the time I’ve read the same book for the 5th, 10th, 59th time, some of them get get pretty old. Let’s face it, there are some TERRIBLE kids books out there (and for some reason, these are usually the ones that our kids love the most). Luckily, the Boy has an amazing attention span for books and we have graduated from simple picture books that identify objects “Duck, Truck, Digger, Tiger…” to those that have a story worth repeating. I hope to use this space to write about some of my favourite children’s books (since it seems that is all I’m reading these days) because while there are many terrible children’s books out there, there are also some wonderful ones – which are fun to read again and again – I would love to help direct you to some of these. Keep in mind, these reviews are going to be from my perspective, as the adult who has to read the books over and over again, not always from the kid’s perspective! I wouldn’t recommend a book that the Boy refuses to listen to, but my choices will be more for me than for him. He is only two, and is happy to read “Duck, Truck, Digger, Tiger” 52 times in a row. Me, I need a little bit more…
“The Party” by Barbara Reid.
I love this book for so many reasons. First of all, it’s nice to read. It’s written in a lyrical poetic style (I’m NOT an English major, so no, I won’t be getting technical with these reviews) – that is to say, it’s a poem and it rhymes. The rhythm is good and it flows well when read aloud. Second, it’s illustrated by Barbara Reid! I imagine that you’ll see her name up here a few times before I’m done. She’s an amazing Canadian artist who illustrates books using plasticine. The work she produces is incredible. The attention to detail in all of her books is amazing and I can only imagine how long it must take for her to create the illustrations for the books that she does. The simplest Barbara Reid book is still worth having because of the quality of the illustrations.
Finally, the story of “the Party” resonates with me because it reminds me of the family picnics I used to go to as a child. The book is about a girl who is going to a family gathering to celebrate her Grandmother’s birthday. At the beginning of the book she doesn’t really want to go and by the end she doesn’t want to go home. In between she becomes reconnected with her cousins and family members and does all the things that kids do at such a gathering. It’s very simple but the first time I read it I was amazed at how perfectly it captured that experience.
When I was young I went to a family picnic on my mom’s side every June and a Christmas dinner for my Dad’s side every December. In between I didn’t see many of the cousins. They didn’t live in the same town as me and were all second cousins; since my parents are both from small families I only had two first cousins and they lived in a different province so we saw them even less. At these family gatherings it always seemed like the other kids all knew each other and my sister and I were the odd girls out. There’s a line in the book that says “We look at the other kids, they look at us… how to begin at the party”. I remember so well, that feeling of knowing who these kids were, and what their names were, but not knowing how to start up a conversation after a year or two of not seeing them. Even now, as a more confident adult, I still feel that way on the first night of the family reunion we have for my Dad’s side of the family every two years.
Towards the end of the story there’s another line that makes me love this story. It is about having to “play hide and go seek from our mothers”. When I was a kid visiting family or family friends there’d always come a point in the night when we knew that whoever was the next kid to go upstairs and remind the parents of our existence would be the one who was responsible for the night ending and everyone having to go home. Heaven forbid you’d have to go to the bathroom and be the one who “ruined it all”. So I knew exactly what was meant by that line about playing hide and go seek from our mothers, we did that every time we got together with friends.
I love “The Party” for it’s art work, it’s poetry and it’s “realness”. It perfectly expressed the feeling of these childhood events better than I ever could and showed that these childhood experiences, that I thought were unique, were maybe a bit more universal than I had imagined. I don’t know, in this age of smaller families and less cousins, if this book will have the same meaning for the younger generation, but I imagine that there will always be big parties of this type either with friends or with family, for kids to go to, feel awkward at and then embrace.
As for the Boy at age two? He likes this book too. He’s too young to really “get” the story on a personal level of course, but he likes to look for “Aunt Joan” on different pages, he tries to figure out about the “Little cheese things” on the food page and likes the birthday cake page. He’s always loved any story that rhymes, and this one is no exception.
I give “the Party” two thumbs up!
http://www.barbarareid.ca/ – check out Barbara Reid and more of her work on her webpage.