I remember the high school graduation gift I got from one of my cousins: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss. At the time, I thought it was a very novel idea. A children’s book for a (kind of) adult! Who’da thought?
It wasn’t until later that I realized Barnes & Noble actually had a small section dedicated to children’s books as graduation gifts. And it hasn’t been until the last few months that I’ve been reminded in a similar way how practical children’s books can be as learning tools for adults and not just the children themselves.
Unfortunately, the simple lessons these books teach us can also be pretty easy to forget sometimes.
My wife and I have tried to make a habit of reading to our 7-month-old daughter. Obviously, her understanding of exactly what’s going on in these books is pretty limited (my daughter’s, not my wife’s), so we’re kind of reading to ourselves in a sense. It’s nice when we get a smile out of our daughter or she reaches out and touches the illustrations. And as of late, she mostly just tries to eat the books. But the lessons in a good children’s book apply to anyone — most important, the person reading the book and setting the example for the child.
A few of the classics come to mind. Max is sent to his room without dinner for being a bad boy in Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” which is often cited as one of the top children’s books of all time. Instead of telling his mom he’s sorry, Max ships off to a fantastical world in his own bedroom where he becomes the king of all Wild Things. He partakes in a wild rumpus and then sends the Wild Things off to their own beds without dinner before coming back to reality — where his mother has forgiven him for his previous misdeeds and places a bowl of hot soup in his room for him to eat for dinner.
In “The Little Engine That Could,” we learn the value of hard work and perseverance. Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” teaches us about unconditional love. And newer characters created by Mo Willems, Elephant and Piggie, offer our little ones — and ourselves — insight into what it’s like to treat our peers with respect.
So I was excited when I heard recently that we had a local option available for my wife and I to read to our daughter.
Flanders resident Rose Nigro self-published her first children’s book — “A Duck’s Tail” — earlier this year. It’s about a story you’ve probably heard before, as the Big Duck on Flanders Road is somewhat of a local legend in the area. As it should be; it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. A vestige of the area’s past as one of the world leaders in duck farming, the 20-foot-tall structure was first built on West Main Street in Riverhead and later moved to Flanders, where it stood for over 50 years. But as development threatened its existence, the duck was purchased by Suffolk County and moved to county land farther south on Route 24. Following pushback from the community, the duck later moved back to its longtime home in Flanders after the county stepped in and bought the land where it sits today.
The author said she first wrote the book as a regular story, but “wasn’t impressed” — so she put it into rhyme to catch the attention of kids.
I doubt my daughter understands the rhyme scheme too well or sees the look of sadness on the duck’s face — and, later on, its smile — in some of the illustrations.
But I see them. And the message about residents’ efforts to bring the duck back to its home in Flanders, and how people felt when it landed back at its current home, resonates with me. Underlying themes of perseverance, community and teamwork ring throughout the book. Ms. Nigro herself believes the book demonstrates the results of local political action.
Like many things I’m finding out about parenthood, maybe the messages in children’s books are just something I never really thought about too much until I picked one up and started reading to my daughter.
“Where the Wild Things Are” isn’t just about a kid who gets sent to his room without dinner. And “A Duck’s Tail” isn’t just about a duck that gets moved from place to place.
Maybe children’s books should just be called “books.”
Photo Caption: Author Rose Nigro of Flanders, with grandon Cole, 7 months, and his mother, Nicole, also of Flanders, at the Big Duck recently to promote the book “A Duck’s Tail.” (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Joseph Pinciaro is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-298-3200, ext. 238. Follow @cjpinch