August 23, 2007

DTQ: What's Too Long For A Kid's Book?

Little_Miss_Chatterbox.jpgSo the kid and I just read Mister Tall, one of the Roger Hargreaves books, and I know some old man at the Wall Street Journal will harrumph when I say it, but the book's just too damn long and too damn wordy for me.

I just timed it: 16 pages, 3:10.

Part of the problem is the annoyingness of the Mr Men & Little Miss characters; most of them are Little Sociopaths who only end up giving bad ideas to Little Kids who don't yet know any better. Also, there's Hargreaves' language: He sounds like just the genial, chatty boor you'd get stuck sitting next to on a slow train to Surrey.

Usually, I end up skipping half the words in a Hargreaves book, just to keep my cool.

I never compared the two, but read side by side, Hargreaves must have had Beatrix Potter in mind when he wrote. The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a whopping 69 pages, and it just clocked in at 5:17. While it's empirically longer, it doesn't feel it; maybe it's the better writing. Or maybe it's just the time of day or frame of mind.

Either way, for bedtime, we classify Peter Rabbit as a long book, i.e., too long for the "just one more" encore. Same with Seuss, Babar, and any book starring Frances the Garrulous Badger.

Just for comparison, we read a stack of boardbooks and little kid books, without any discussion or "Where's the blue butterfly?" analysis. Here's the result, :

I am a Bunny by Ole Risom & Richard Scarry: 12 pages, 1:13
The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle: 12 pages, 1:51
First Book of Sushi, by Amy Wilson Sanger: 9 pages, 1:27
A Magical Day With Matisse, by Metzger & Bober: 9 pages, 1:30
Thank You Bear by Greg Foley: pages, 1:29
Bossy Bear by David Horvath: 16 pages, 1:41

So there you go. A Children's Book is 10-16 pages and takes no more than 2:00 to read. Does that sound right to you? What books are too long? Honestly, are scientists claiming the developmental bulwark against TV-zombiedom is a 90-second, 150-word book? Because you could squeeze a couple of books in during a commercial break. MTV Generation indeed.

15 Comments

Curious George. Those books are freakishly long. Too many words on a page - my son is usually trying to turn the page for me before I'm even done the first paragraph.

My daughter loves to now read the Disney princess books, talk about LONG!

i am a bunny was written by ole rison, illustrated by richard scary. just to give credit where it's due.

[d'oh, since it's sitting next to me... thanks -ed.]

Well, maybe I'm of a different mindset but when I was about four or five, my mother was reading Tolkien, Lewis, and Alexander to me (chapter-a-night sort of thing). Not much "just one more" there, but probably much more interesting for her so when the question did arise, she didn't mind so much.

I'm already repeating it with my daughter as I'm about six chapters into the first Harry Potter book with her. She is too young to know what's going on, but hopefully she appreciate my reading her "big kid" stuff while she tackles Peter Rabbit and Curious George herself later on.

the little engine that could. ugh! i've been known to hide it between the couch cushions for a few days at a time to get a break from all that cloying dialogue.

[otoh, we hid the abridged version because it's chopped up story is unreadable. -ed.]

The length of the book depends on your child's experience. My 3-year-old does puzzles and plays board games. A mostly athletic friend her age has trouble distinguishing which side of a puzzle piece should should face up.

We read books of all lengths. We worked our way through Bunnicula (112 pages for 9-12 year olds) reading 10 to 15 pages in one sitting -- a lot more words than in a typical toddler book. We have two sets of Winnie the Pooh books and she would have no trouble sitting through 10 or more. My brain goes numb after three, but she loves it.

Now, when she starts reading books by herself, that's another matter.

[yeah, sometimes the kid could read the entire Seuss anthology in one sitting if we let her. My 'too long' question is mostly about what feels too long as a parent. -ed.]

Oh, what's too long as a parent is any book you've already read three times in the last 24 hours.

[nail, head. -ed]

I'm pretty sure my brother and I were in the 7-8 yr old range when we had our love affair with Little Miss/Mr. books. Though my 2.5 is a fan of Mr. Strong- not sure where our copy came from- and yes, it is too long.

[sounds about right. my wife met them in 1st grade. -ed.]

Yes, what I find a real shame is that so many wonderful books are just too long. I adore Ferdinand, Mike Mulligan, Lyle Crocodile and my all time favorite Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge... all of them are TOO long. I find myself skipping sentences and adapting the stories so that Connor can sit through and I don't lose my voice. Sometimes it works and sometimes he catches it immediately.
I was just introduced to a book the other day "White is for Blueberry" that I absolutely love (only a few words per page and beautiful pictures) and I've found some others through the past few years that I pull out to keep from having to constantly repeat those long stories.

I was going to read this blog post, but I scrolled down a bit and it looked too long.

Perhaps not coincidentally, I grew up on I am a Bunny.

[could you summarize your comment for me please? also, you'd better skip the next post, too. talk about too long... -ed.]

Two words, Richard Scarry. My son loves those books, but after a long Monday or Tuesday and two other books it takes a little endurance to get through those epics.

Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss. I have yet to make it through the entire book in one sitting with the boy.

By bedtime, what's too long is any book not on tv!

My girls (two and three) are both at the who/what/why/where stage, so reading even a two-word picture book turns into a marathon of questions regarding the illustrations.

Wow. In an average evening, my 3-y.o. daughter and I will read 2 to 5 books (usually depending on the amount of dawdling she's done getting ready for bed). There might be a board book or two in there (the "Trucks-Trains-Boats" 3-pack is a favorite), but usually the "book unit" is something like Olivia, or Guess How Much I Love You?. Maybe we're just hard-core.

I'm late chiming on this one, but my current toddler book nemesis is "Dear Bunny" by Michaela Morgan. My mother picked this up for our girl. I've been periodically hiding it ever since. DB has cute enough artwork by Caroline Church and basically involves two love-lorn bunnies sending sweet letters back and forth to one another. Toooooo loooong. Ditto for "Green Eggs and Ham". It's a classic, but wow. Our current favorite is "My Friends" by Taro Gomi. Everyone loves it. The brief text, and simple artwork, are just the thing for the "read it to me 25 times a day" thing we're in at the moment.

[at least with GE&H, it's highly editable, what with all the repetition. -ed.]

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