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Mr. Slinger wows again

Recently I had a little talk with my two four-year-old grandchildren.

All talks with four-year-olds are by definition little. Preschoolers aren’t ready for marathon discussions. For one thing, marathon discussions tend to happen late at night when they’re asleep, and for another, their favorite topics don’t support extended discourse. That is, they might be deeply interested in the knothole in the upstairs hallway or why this banana is so squishy, but adults can rarely dedicate more than a minute and a half to the subject, after which they start begging to please, please talk about something else.

Other children’s interests that fail to spark equal enthusiasm in their elders include poop jokes, toot jokes and things adults say without thinking. The other day, my grandson, after crashing trucks from the summit of a beanbag chair and sneaking up on me like his idea of a ninja (he doesn’t watch television; his understanding of ninjas is courtesy of his daycare classmates), was curled on the chair pretending to be a sleeping baby.

“Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite,” I said.

“What are bedbugs?” he asked, and we were off. Several minutes later, after I had both explained bedbugs (briefly) and assured him that no such bugs lived in his house, his father walked in to hear his son announce that he was being a baby bedbug ninja front-loader.

“And how was your day?” I asked my son-in-law.

Back to my little talk. It occurred to me not long ago that my third grandchild, who is almost two, will soon be ready to hear stories. He’s interested in books now, of course, and not only points out all the animal pictures he sees but supplies the sounds they make. “Cow! Moooo!” he explained several dozen times recently when he and his brother (one of the four-year-olds) and I were reading a book in which a cow was pictured on the side of a delivery truck. Speaking of animals, he could take his rendition of the monkeys in Caps for Sale on the road. “Tsz, Tsz, Tsz!” he’ll say, grinning with all his teeth. (He could take that grin on the road, too.) And only yesterday, he sat on his grandfather’s lap to hear the story of a baby gorilla, while across the room, I was reading something more erudite (probably the story of a little snowplow who saved the day) to his brother.

So enticing the two-year-old to like reading is not my goal. My goal is to introduce him to the dozens of books I’ve read to his older brother and cousin until we all were ready to move on. James Marshall’s books about George and Martha. Robert Kraus’s Whose Mouse Are You? and its several not-as-good-but-still-good sequels. All the Kevin Henkes books about young mice with recognizable human problems. Several of those books include appearances by my favorite teacher in literature, whose name I can never remember—“Mr. Slanker? Mr. Klinger?”—until my granddaughter supplies it: “Mr. Slinger!” she’ll remind me. Oh, Mr. Slinger, how I adore that man. I mean mouse.

I want to share these stories and more — Rosemary Wells’s Max and Ruby! Miriam Cohen’s first graders! All the loving, hilarious books by Bob Graham (The Bus Called Heaven is my favorite, but they’re all good) — with my younger grandchild, who deserves to meet Mr. Slinger and everybody else who lives between the covers of these books.

So I had a short but solemn conversation with the four-year-olds. “Will you be willing to re-read books we’ve already read, so that Sammy can know these stories, too?” I asked them. They both nodded gravely. We were vowing to bring a new member into the Sacred Book Circle, a promise we all will keep, even if it means hearing how George poured split-pea soup into his shoes for the millionth time. Not that it ever gets old.

Margo Bartlett About Margo Bartlett

Margo Bartlett wrote, copy-edited, and proofread for newspapers for nearly thirty years and currently does occasional freelance writing and editing. She previously worked for a school book fair company, which offered her the chance to catch up on children’s and YA literature, her favorite genres.

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Comments

  1. The title of your post left me eager to learn there was a NEW book about Mr. Slinger coming out! Disappointed by what you wrote . . . yes . . . and no. I loved everything you said about the next generation and the joy of sharing the wonderful existing books we do have. Thanks for your thoughts today and HAPPY INITIATION with a newcomer to the Sacred Book Circle!

  2. Margo Bartlett says:

    Judy, I’m sorry to have inadvertently disappointed you! I certainly keep my eyes open for a new Kevin Henkes book featuring my favorite teacher of all time. I hope, if and when it appears, I don’t disgrace myself by wrestling it from the hands of one of Henkes’ smaller readers.
    Also, thanks for your kind words about the piece. Reading to my grandchildren is among the joys of my life, as was reading to their mothers.

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