At our upcoming Fostering Lifelong Learners: Prescribing Books for Early Childhood Education conference, Horn Book Guide Executive Editor Kitty Flynn will be leading a presentation about how the Horn Book evaluates and reviews preschool books. This is one aspect of her work that also engages her off the clock: Kitty and her husband are parents to two children under five.
1. You were a book reviewer before you were a parent. How has the first job helped with the second?
Two words: review copies. After umpteen years of working at the Horn Book, I’ve amassed a pretty good and varied collection of children’s books. We’re never at a loss for something to read, and thankfully both kids love books (coincidence? Maybe, but having tons of books all over the house doesn’t hurt). There have been more than a few times that I’ve come upon one or both kids sitting (quietly!) and looking at a book—and that’s just the kind of help I need.
2. And how has the second job helped with the first?
Being a parent has and hasn’t informed my job as a book reviewer. What each of my kids likes is not an indicator of what other kids will like or of what makes an outstanding book. For example, Chloe can’t get enough of Blue’s [as in Clues] Sleepover Party, but that doesn’t mean I would recommend it to anyone else (unless that person deserves it).
I do like having my own captive audience to test drive reading books aloud, which helps a lot with reviewing picture books. And when they were infants, I even read some novels aloud to them—working and bonding at the same time!
Living with young children has allowed me to see childhood from a different angle. I recently reviewed Ole Konnecke’s Anton and the Battle, which I think captures perfectly how a four-year-old (boy, especially) thinks and plays. At one point in their proverbial pissing match, Anton and his frenemy, Luke, pretend to throw bombs at each other. I would have liked this book BC (before children), but I wouldn’t have had a clue how completely on-target the cartoony pretend-violent play is.
3. You have two preschoolers, a girl and a boy. Do you see any gender stereotyping in their book preferences?
My first reaction to this is that their preferences have more to do with their interests and temperaments than with their gender, but who knows? Jakob likes information and has a lot of patience; he’ll listen to a 128 page book about space if someone is willing to read it to him. He also likes fiction and nonfiction books about dinosaurs, construction, knights, firefighters, and other typical little boy topics, but he doesn’t limit himself to those things. If someone is reading a book, he’ll usually sit and listen, no matter what it’s about.
Chloe isn’t girly at all—she won’t look at a dress; her favorite color is black—but she does gravitate toward fiction rather than her big brother’s information books. She loves Curious George (like any self-respecting three-year-old), Leslie Patricelli’s board books, and any book with Humpty Dumpty in it. She likes folktales; Feodor Rojankovsky’s The Tall Book of Nursery Tales has been at the top of her morning story time pile for a few months now.
4. What are their current favorites?
Their favorites change from day to day, week to week. I asked this morning and they both said, “That superheroes book with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman [a.k.a. DC Super Heroes Storybook Collection].” Last week the answer would have been, “Traction Man!” (that’s Traction Man Is Here by Mini Grey). They were obsessed with that book for a few days. We read it over and over; we acted out the story (with improvised Traction Man outfits and a pet scrubbing brush); we made a special trip to the library to borrow the other two TM books. But this week Traction Man is off the radar. Jakob has been studying The Usborne Official Knight’s Handbook. Chloe wants us to read “Puss in Boots” (and only “Puss in Boots”) from Anne Rockwell’s collection, Puss in Boots and Other Tales.
Oh, and I probably shouldn’t admit this, but for the last year (or maybe it just feels like a year), Jakob’s #1 favorite? The thirty-two page 2012 Playmobil toy catalog.
5. What, in your opinion, is the most misguided choice for a baby shower book?
Along with a Playmobil catalog, any book that speaks more to new parents and their experiences/wishes/hopes than to a baby or a child…that is if the gift giver’s intention is really and truly to give the baby a gift. I’m sure many parents would like those books’ sentiments (in fact, I know many parents do like them), but kids themselves won’t give a poopy diaper about them.