In a recent game of “Let’s chase each other around the house and shriek at the top of our lungs until Mom goes batty,” the four-year-old practically impaled her toe on a chair leg and started screaming. Being the compassionate savages they are, her siblings consoled her by yelling, “Help! Call the librarians! Call the janitor! Call the weatherman! Just call somebody!”
But… it’s kind of her own fault. See, she’s enamored with the Doctor/Artist/Firefighter Ted books by Andrea Beaty. Ted is a rascally imp who gets in trouble (through no fault of his own, of course — much like my little girl). In every book is Principal Bigham — not Biggum, folks, but Big-Ham, as he’s a hog, and it only took me three years to pick up on this — who is Ted’s archnemesis and always arrives in some sort of distress and starts hollering for the librarians the weatherman and the janitor.
What I love about these books is that Ted is an unapologetic problem-solver. Fire in the house? He puts out his “fire-burned” toast with a whipped cream extinguisher. No paint for Artist Ted? Eh, he’ll just use ketchup.
But let’s talk more about the author, because the Ted books aren’t even her pieces de resistance. That distinction is reserved for the truly awesome trio of “Iggy Peck, Architect,” “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” and “Ada Twist, Scientist.”
To make sure I hit all the highlights, here are three areas of excellence:
- The subject matter. Enough of sweet little pink-frocked girls who bake delicious cupcakes and host lemonade tea parties. Go ahead, build up my little girl! Make her embrace her curiosity, her questioning spirit, her defiance in the face of defeat. And take those quirks that make each child unique — like Iggy Peck’s unwavering interest in architecture, or Ada Twist’s propensity to question and experiment — and celebrate them! Weirdness is cool. Rosie Revere builds a helio-cheese-copter. Iggy Peck created a tower out of dirty diapers. Ada Twist asked too many questions. I love them all, and my kids do, too.
The pictures. Don’t underestimate the enchantment of great illustrations. There is so much in these books that kids will pick up on, from the similarity of all the shoes in Iggy Peck to the fact that Iggy, Rosie, and Ada actually appear in each book and are classmates in Miss Lila Greer’s second-grade class.
The writing. Oh yeah, the writing. These are, after all, books. Honestly, so many children’s books are so fluffy and focused on instilling great messages that the writing is secondary. But these books… Iggy Peck is written as limericks! Rosie Revere is in pretty near perfect iambic pentameter with an AABB rhyme scheme. The shoulda-been-an-English-major side of me was loving it. Even thought picture books are meant for younger kids, don’t underestimate the power of reading well-written ones to big kids. It’s really not any different than poetry, and there’s a ton they can learn about rhyme, rhythm, syntax variation, and meter.