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   Ask Jeanna - Some Do's & Don'ts

What do you think of "bath books," books with waterproof pages?
.A:  Not much.  While it's wonderful for young children to look at picture books throughout their day, that doesn't mean that every moment or every occasion needs a book.

Far better to give your children constant supervision while they are in the bath to ensure their safety and - if there's time for a leisurely bath - a selection of thoughtful, appropriate bath toys. 

Simple, but interesting, bath toys can include things that float (a small plastic boat and a rubber duck), things that pour (a small plastic cup and a plastic spoon), and things into which they can pour (a plastic funnel and a small plastic bowl). 

Then add a washcloth and soap plus relaxed, attentive conversation that helps your child build vocabulary and communication skills.  You and your child can talk about your child's day and about what you and your child will do after the bath.  You can also talk about what you see your child doing with the plastic boat, funnel, cup, etc.

Your child will have an enjoyable bath-time - and your child will benefit from the conversation and from the hands-on play with bath toys.

Why not also include "bath books" with waterproof plastic pages?  Because virtually all other books have paper pages that shouldn't go near or into water.  Water damages or ruins books.

Adults understand the difference between a book with waterproof pages and a book with paper pages, but young children are unlikely to reliably make this distinction.

Since there are other interesting and educational options for bath-time - and many (dry) options each day for picture books - why give a young child any book to put into water? 

Q:  I saw a board book that uses Cheerios to teach counting.  What do you think?

A:  A double No!

I know the book.  It has circular indents so young children can put one, two, three, four, or five Cheerios into the indented circles on each page and count the Cheerios.

I think it's a "No-No" for two reasons.

First, I don't want to teach children to play with food.  And I sure don't want to teach children to put food on the pages of a book.

Second reason:  I don't want to have any product marketed to children in their books.  And I'm sure not going to spend my money to pay for a marketing product.

There are hundreds, even thousands, of worthwhile books for young children, including picture books where you and your child can count the ducks, the cows, the cars, the house windows, or whatever is on each page.

There are also so many free and easy opportunities for your child to handle and count objects.  You and your child can count plastic toys, clothespins, pieces of paper, or cut-out paper circles. 

For example, you can even take five pieces of paper and number them . . .







    . . . and play a game to put one object on the first page, two objects on the next page, etc.

Both of these approaches help your child learn to count and to associate each number (each numeral from 1 to 5) with the correct quantity.

So save your money!  Or buy a picture book that doesn't teach your child to play with food, put food on the pages of a book, and then whine at the store to get you to buy brand-name marketed products.

Q:  I saw two picture books about Peter Rabbit in the bookstore and they had different illustrations.  Does it matter which one I buy?

A:  Since you asked, I'll give you my opinion.  The original The Tale of Peter Rabbit was beautifully written and beautifully illustrated by Beatrix Potter.  It's a classic, perfect as is, and my first choice. I see no reason to buy another version with someone else's illustrations or with someone else's changed or simplified text.  Not when the original needs no changing.

That said, there are multiple versions of Mother Goose books done by a range of very talented illustrators.  Here, you may wish to buy one or two versions that you find appealing.

The same goes for fairy tales.  Very talented illustrators have created different versions of classic fairy tales (from Little Red Riding Hood to Cinderella).  And the words in different versions vary.  Sometimes, the story even ends differently. (For instance, does Little Red Riding Hood get saved in the nick of time or eaten by the wolf - or is she eaten by the wolf and then somehow saved?).  When you're buying a fairy tale book - or borrowing one from the public library - consider the writing, the story-line, and the illustrations when you make your choice.

Q:  My friends have children's books with t.v. characters like "Dora" and with movie characters from Disney.  Their kids seem to like these books.  What do you think?

A:  I think every adult needs to think about which books we read to children, what are the benefits of a particular book, and what might be the "unintended consequence."

For instance, if you read a scary book to your young child, your child may be scared.  If you read a book about a t.v. or movie character, your child might want to watch more television and movies (and have you buy every product from diapers to pillow cases that features the character). If you read a book to a young child about a super hero who can fly out a window, your young child may try to imitate this.  (Honestly, young children are impressionable and too young to always know the difference between pretend and real.  I knew a child whose parents caught their son wearing his super hero costume - in time - near their upstairs window.)

Clearly, your choice of books can enrich your child.  Your choice of books can also have unintended consequences.

The main point I want to make is that well-chosen books can introduce children to wonderful characters and situations, new words and concepts, and delightful artwork.  Well-chosen books can help children understand their feelings, solve problems, and learn interesting things about the world (animals, birds, rocks, trains, shapes, colors, people, and places).  All without a "downside," and without unintended consequences.

While many people think it's perfectly fine to give their young children books featuring television and movie characters, I prefer the hundreds (and thousands) of quality children's books that don't feature commercial, mass-marketed characters.

Personally, I have no interest in buying training pants, sheets, band aids, and books that market "My Little Pony," "Dora," or "Pocahontas."  No matter how cute or popular they may be, I don't want to have story-time reinforce t.v. and movie watching - and I don't want to turn children into consumers.

Since we live in an age when there are so many quality children's books in bookstores and public libraries, I encourage you to steer clear of commercially-driven books and to choose other great stories instead.

Q:  What about alphabet books that kids write in with crayons or markers that you then wipe off or erase?

A:  Some children's books have pages with plastic coatings.  Children can practice writing the letters of the alphabet with a crayon or marker, often writing on the book's dotted lines.

Other books have mazes for children to "pencil their way" from start to finish.  And yet other books have "connect the dots" games or simple instructions to "draw a line" between two pictures or "make a circle" around two objects.

What these books all have in common is that children correctly use them by writing in them.

Are these kinds of write-in books a good idea? 

No, for very young children.  Once a very young child is permitted and encouraged to write in a book, he or she will probably write in other books - and not understand why that's not an O.K. thing to do. It's too confusing, and there's no real reason to do this with very young children. (Instead, give each child pieces of paper - not pages in a book - to make drawings, scribbles, a collection of marks.)

Are write-in books a good idea for somewhat older children?  Yes, with a big IF.

IF your child is old enough to understand and remember not to scribble, make a mark, or write anything in other books, then it's a fine possibility.  Activity books that involve letter writing (penmanship), simple mazes, connect the dots, and so forth are fun and educational for many kids.

Just make sure to wait to introduce these types of write-in activity books until children have at least several years to mature, practice impulse control, and treat all of their picture books and story-books appropriately.

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