Five Kids’ Books That Will Fix Adult Problems

Sometimes my three-year-old moves toward me, his sweet charming face filled with hope, holds out a book I loathe, and says, ”You need to read this.” I avoid eye contact. I turn on the blender, like, I am crafting an invisible green smoothie and I have no idea what you want because I could not possibly hear you! Some of these books are obviously bad (anything with Thomas, Dora, et al). Some of these books require me to bark. A lot. Some of these books involve finding people who wear distinctive shirts.

Some of these dreaded books are classics. You may have received three copies of these at your baby shower, and they were all meaningfully inscribed, so you’re stuck with them. There is a certain book about youthful poultry that need to cross the road. Also, a certain book about a personified locomotive who just will not quit in this extremely repetitive way. The words in these books feel leaden on my tongue, and there are so very many words. You know what other books have way too many words? The ones about the monkey. I would never malign this cute, inquisitive monkey, but so many words, when the kids just need to be in bed already.

Yes, there are books that bring me down. But there are also books that help me, that warm my cynical, monkey-hating heart. When I read these books to my kids, all snuggled in their beds, it is exactly what I imagined parenthood would be like when I was pregnant, before I had any idea what was about to hit me. So I emotionally manipulate myself and my family by reading these – our most treasured books. They always make us me feel better, especially when I’m having a rough mom moment. Somehow they seem to cure whatever is ailing me that day. Why not try these out the next time you need a parenting pick me up?

  • Parenting Low Point #1: You picked your first grader up from school, and he was sobbing because his best friend was having a play date with someone else. Your three-year-old (who is practically four and still in diapers) relieved himself in a big way just before it was time to go to tennis so then you were running late. Both children were crying as you packed them into the car. The first grader stopped crying to play tennis, so things were looking up. But then as you watched, chatting up the PTO president who was sitting right next to you, your three-year-old said, ”Mom, why are you drinking your wine so slow?” about the can of lemon seltzer you brought because you were trying to add a frisson of excitement to watching six-year-olds fail to make contact with a tennis ball. ”This is not wine! It’s seltzer!” you said, really loud and kind of mean, so then your three-year-old felt stupid. The PTO president looked away.
  • Read this: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz 

There are days when anything that can go wrong will, and any kid who has to go shoe shopping and then to the dentist after school has legitimate complaints. And things just keep getting worse. ”My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad train pajamas. I hate my railroad-train pajamas.” Alexander’s litany of complaints is so perfectly written it’s impossible to trip over the words. I love the ultra ”˜70s illustrations (the carpool is driven by a mom in a VW bug, and she is rocking enormous glasses). Plus your kids will think it’s hilarious if every time something goes wrong, you say, ”I think I’ll move to Australia.” (Buy it on Amazon for $4.51)

  • Parenting Low Point #2: You just threw away ”” I mean composted ””a CSA cabbage that’s been moldering in your fridge for the past six weeks.
  • Read this: Ox Cart Man, by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

This gorgeously written and illustrated book is about a 19th century family that makes or grows everything they need, sells what’s left at market in the fall, and then begins the cycle again. If you read your kids this book, you will feel so virtuous that you won’t even need a CSA anymore. Plus you can try fun family projects like giving away all of the kids’ plastic toys, quitting Amazon Prime (right after you order a Barlow knife), and carving new wooden ones with said knife through the long, cold winter. (Buy it on Amazon for $6.29)

  • Parenting Low Point #3: You just saw your kid do something terrible to his brother and show no remorse in the face of his pain, so now you’re pretty convinced he’s a budding sociopath. And maybe you are a late-blooming sociopath because that yelling you just did in response was completely terrifying.
  • Read this: George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends, written and illustrated by James Marshall

These two goofy-looking hippos are best friends, and they often disagree. They play tricks on each other and are sometimes hilariously selfish, but they forgive, and their love for each other always comes through. When Martha is disappointed that her garden is filled with weeds, George buys cut tulips and sticks them in the ground in her yard. Martha catches him, and George’s plan seems ruined. ”I would much rather have a friend like you than all the gardens in the world,” Martha says. Your kids might learn something about friendship and kindness, but they’ll never suspect they’re learning a thing. (Buy it on Amazon for $22.25)

  • Parenting Low Point #4: A person or animal your kid loves has died. I know. It’s not funny at all. It’s sad and awful, and chances are you feel sad and awful about it, too.
  • Read this: City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J Muth

This is the story of a city dog who visits the country and has glorious adventures with a frog he meets there. Every time the dog visits, he looks for the frog, and then in the winter, he doesn’t find him. Between Muth’s beautifully expressive watercolor illustrations and Willems’s deceptively simple words, you’re in masterful hands. The story is sad, but hopeful, too. Your entire family might sob, but maybe that’s exactly what you need. (But it on Amazon for $22.25)

  • Parenting Low Point #5: Sometimes it feels as if you’re running and running and everything is exhausting and you got through a whole day in which everyone pretty much had what he or she needed and there were no disasters, but somehow it was just kind of blah and now it is bedtime and you forgot to have a joyful family moment.
  • Read this: This Land Is Your Land, by Woody Guthrie, illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen

Don’t read this. Sing it. Maybe you have a guitar kicking around and know three chords. Maybe you don’t. Who cares? Sing it anyway. If you don’t have the book, just look up the words! At first you might be afraid the neighbors will overhear the hokiness, but then the kids’ little mouths start moving and that chorus really is catchy and empowering, and then, oh, look at that, Woody Guthrie wasn’t pulling any punches. He was talking about responsibility and actually improving things, and the kids are singing their guts out. Soon enough the very idea of singing along with their parents will mortify them, but for now they dig it and something is welling up in your chest. It is feelings! You are feeling feelings, and they are the warm, happy kind! (Buy it on Amazon for $18.00)

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