“And what did Uncle Robert give you?” we ask, as the children open their presents Christmas morning. “A book? Oh, that’s nice.” We mean it in all the dictionary definitions: not only “amiable, kind”—it is also “pleasing, agreeable,” and what’s more, it is “suitable, proper, refined.”
A book is small, compact, and easily stored even in a city apartment. It cannot possibly damage furniture or people, and there are no small pieces to get lost. It is noiseless, and will not cause indigestion or cavities. Above all, it has an aura of intellect, culture, and non-violence.
Assuming, then, that any book you choose to give the children on your list will please their parents, here are some that the kids might like to settle down with too, after they have broken the new phonograph, colored the baby with Craypas, and lost the special screwdriver for the Erector set.
Three to six years
Tickle the pig by Dorothy Kunhardt (Golden Press, 18 pp., $1.95) is a worthy successor to the same author’s famous Pat the Bunny, or Norman O. Brown for toddlers. Stuck to every other page is a pneumatic cutout animal made of foam plastic, suitably colored a pleasing shade of deep pink. “Timmy rubs the elephant’s wonderful long trunk. Now you rub the elephant. See, he loves his goodnight rub. Rub rub rub.” Highly recommended, of course. Older children, who have reached a later psychosexual stage of development, may prefer The Girl and the Rabbit by Maurice Sendak, one of the most attractive (and emotionally most explicit) accounts of an erotic episode I have seen anywhere.
Oscar Otter by Nathaniel Benchley (Harper & Row, 64 pp., $1.95) and Tom and the Two Handles by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban (Harper & Row, 64 pp., $1.95). The triumph of wit and ingenuity over a severely limited vocabulary in books like Danny and the Dinosaur and Green Eggs and Ham is echoed, if not repeated, in these latest “I-Can-Read” books. Unfortunately, a new moralistic, suburban, almost Dick-and-Jane tone also seems to be creeping in. Oscar Otter builds a huge ice slide and escapes his enemies; but learns in the end, like so many other little others, bears, whales, and trains you have already met, that it is safest and best to stay home.
Tom and the Two Handles is a more complicated case: an almost perfect allegory of the current world situation as seen by the well-meaning liberal Republican mind. Tom gets into a fist fight with his friend Kenny, and is beaten. He complains to his father, who is full of wise sayings and good advice (“Every problem has two handles,” “You can’t win them all,” “It’s time to call a spade a spade.”), but each time he goes back to Kenny’s house and tries to apply the advice, they begin to quarrel and Kenny beats him up again. Finally Tom gets a punching bag; practices on it, and goes and beats Kenny up; then they are friends again.…
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