My four-year-old grandson Calder and I like many of the same things: parks, playgrounds, apples, gardening, music, walking our dog Chloe, roughhousing (which we call “Konging”), fart humor, and perhaps most of all, reading.
I spend a lot of time with Calder next to me or in my lap with a book. Lately, we’ve been busy with books by DK, the British publisher formerly known as Dorling Kindersley. I’ve loved and used their high-quality series of Eyewitness Travel Guides for many years, but DK also publishes dozens of large format, copiously illustrated general reference books – perfect for browsing and learning with a four-year-old.
I ran into a great sale on DK books around Christmastime at Costco and bought a few. Now our stockpile comprises:
BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA
CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA
HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 1,000 OBJECTS
HISTORY (with the Smithsonian)*
KNOWLEDGE ENCYCLOPEDIA (with the Smithsonian)*
THE BIG BOOK OF AIRPLANES
(*DK publishes books with the imprimatur of many well-respected organizations.)
Calder and I leaf through these books all the time. We play “I-Spy” and talk about what’s on the page. He loves animals and birds. He loves arctic scenes and scenes from ancient Egypt.
He is also very interested in armor and weapons: guns and knives, etc. What he calls “traditional weapons.” His parents have kept him away from anything that depicts weapons or violence of any kind. He’s never seen a movie or a TV show. He doesn’t know what a light sabre is. He’s as media-pure as they can keep him. So guns and weapons are forbidden fruit to him. And fortuntately/unfortunately, there are a lot of guns and weapons made and used throughout human history to see. When we go through any book on human history, there is a lot I have to skip over and censor. (I’m glad he’s still so young that I don’t have to explain Donald Trump to him.)
The graphics in the DK books – on glossy white paper, in a generous 10”x12” format – are spectacular. I had no idea how many different animals there were. So many obscure, strange Scrabble-word species and subspecies.
I thought I knew something about this world. I was a kid who read the World Book for fun for hours and hours. But from going through these DK books, I realize how little I know. There are vast tracts of history and science of which I am basically ignorant. I’ve done a lot of reading and information-accumulating my entire life, but the world is far more complex and varied than I could ever grasp.
So it’s fun for me also to leaf through these books with Calder and find out about things that are new to me, too: star birth … the merchant empire of Benin … passarines … bronze age China … star death … robotics.
These books show what a fantastic world we live in. There is so much wonder, so much beauty – I want Calder to love the world. Even though it seems like there is so much horror occurring all around us daily, when you see things through the eyes of a bright child, you appreciate how magnificent our world is. We are lucky to be alive to experience even a fragment of the miracle of this existence of ours.
I can’t think of a better gift for any kid than a big pile of DK books.
We also spend time with my collection of pop-up books. A pop-up or movable book is any book with pop-ups, transformations, tunnels, flaps, pull-tabs, pull-downs, etc. that give a three-dimnensional effect. These books are Calder’s “movies.”
Paper engineering is an ancient art. Origami, the traditional Japanese practice of paper folding, has been around since the 6th century. In any era, it is marvelous to see something unusual created from a simple piece of paper.
Today, there are many, many wonderful pop-up books available. Calder loves to choose which book to play with: national parks or New York or California or M.C. Escher or Graceland. He loves tabs that he can pull and the magical movements of a complex construction when a page opens.
I highly recommend the work of the brilliant Robert Sabuda (THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, PETER PAN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) and his collaborations with Matthew Rhinehart (SHARKS, MEGA-BEASTS, GODS AND HEROES, CASTLE.) The ingenuity and artistry of the makers of these marvels is apparent every time Calder and I open one. The last page of the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS book unfolds to a tree that actually lights up.
I do have to hide from him the pop-up books with images that might disturb him: THE POP-UP BOOK OF PHOBIAS … THE POP-UP BOOK OF NIGHTMARES … ALFRED HITCHCOCK and two volumes of CELEBRITY MELTDOWNS.
For that matter, I have to keep him away from other books that interest him: my big Gary Larsen (THE FAR SIDE), Don Martin (“MAD’s Maddest Cartoonist”), and Charles Addams volumes. Lots of that stuff is completely unexplainable to a four-year-old.
Calder loves my art books, especially any book with fold-outs. He just loves to fold out. We’ve been looking at large fold-outs of Wild Things in my Maurice Sendak books and wide expanses of Monet waterlilies. I can’t wait to teach him how to find the ‘NINA’s in the drawings of Al Hirschfeld.
I also have a few big books from Disney movies from when my kids were young – THE LION KING and POCAHONTAS – and he loves to look at those. Especially POCAHONTAS which has bad guys and guns. It’s the only exposure to Disney products that he’s had … and his parents don’t really approve.
Come to think of it, I also have to keep him from seeing some Hieronymous Bosch images. Too disturbing and unexplainable … for me.
I cherish the time I spend reading with Calder. Unfortunately I don’t get to read him to sleep. That’s the TG’s privilege. Bedtime reading is a whole other category. I can’t wait to read him CHARLOTTE’S WEB or STUART LITTLE someday or whatever he wants. Maybe that will be my chance to read some J.K. Rowling.
The Movable Book Society’s site
Robert Sabuda’s site