25 June 2009

What's Brown and Sticky?

The best books for young children are often the simplest. Mo Willems' books, as I wrote yesterday, are excellent examples. Another author who has mastered the simple approach to writing for children is Antoinette Portis. Her books Not a Box and Not a Stick capture the essence of imaginary play better than any I have read recently.

I recently checked Not a Stick out of the library for Isaac. While I was in a cleaning frenzy one Saturday, Matt spent some time with Isaac reading the library books that we had gotten that week. The next morning Isaac came down the stairs with Not a Stick and sat "reading" it to himself. The text is simple enough that he remembered enough of the words to almost quote every page, using expression and inflection, and then he started over. He went through the book at least five times. It was one of those memories that I wish I had on tape just to hear his voice as he narrated the story.

Not a Box and Not a Stick take a simple concept and make a book that all kids, but especially boys, will relate to. How many of us raising sons have seen them ignore a room full of toys for a cardboard box, or use a stick as their "gun" in a game of cops and robbers or a "sword" as they fight off dragons? Actually in Isaac's case the stick is a lightsaber and he is Obi Wan Kenobi and I get to be Darth Vader. I hate to break it to him that, in that particular fight, I win.

The illustrations in these books are simple black lines. The only character is a bunny and there is one line of text on each page. But they are not boring to read. Trust me on this. You do, however, have to give your imagination free reign as you read them. Remember what it was like to be a kid and build that box fort or fight the fire breathing dragon. You may find yourself reaching for these books at bedtime before your son does.

A sidenote from Matt: Cardboard Box and Stick have been added to the National Toy Hall of Fame, alongside Mr. Potato Head, frisbee (a family favorite) and other classic toys.

And the answer to the question in the title? A stick, of course. Except when it's a conductor's baton, a fire hose, or whatever else your son imagines it to be.

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