The best recent find was Steal Back the Mona Lisa! by Meghan McCarthy. Both kids adored it and asked endless questions about the little boy detective who has to steal the Mona Lisa back from the crooked crooks and get it back to the Louvre. Sammie memorized it and slept with it. I could stand outside the door after bedtime and hear the cellophane on the book crinkling as she turned the pages. She would clutch it in her sleep.
Then last week we tried out Pink by Nan Gregory. The story is about a little girl who loves a certain shade of pink that all the popular (and rich) girls at school wear. She obsesses over pink, but her family is too poor to buy her new pink things. Then she finds a pink doll and wants that, but it is very expensive, so she works and does errands for neighbors and saves her money. The kids grew slack over this part. We all thought we knew where we were headed with this. But no. Then the mother suggests a special pink picnic with pink tea and pink like sandwiches and pink confections and they look for pink in nature. The father talks about wanting special lights for the truck he drives, but he can't afford them. All nice, but we're waiting here. And then the girl suggests going by the store to see the doll she's saving for. And they do, and here my heart leapt a little, because when they get there a rich girl from school is buying the doll. She whisks it away and it's gone. Here's a twist, and the kids are interested again, looking hard at the book. The girl is heartbroken and when she gets home her dad is sitting on the stoop and he plays his harmonica and she dances out her frustration. Afterward, she says to her dad that she's sorry he can't afford lights for his truck. And he has the greatest line in kid lit. He says, Don't be sorry. Wanting makes good music.
Wow. The end. The kids looked confused. Garret asked, She doesn't get the doll? I shook my head. He blinked and asked again, She didn't get the doll? I said, No. Sammie turned back through the last few pages looking for the real ending. Garret said, But she wanted the doll. She saved. Here I was able to pull my spine straight and lower my voice into full Sanctimommy mode. You don't get everything you want, I said. It felt great, but I knew myself to be a liar. They do get everything they want. We buy them everything they want, everything in every shade. Why do we do that?
THE EXERCISE: Make a list of old favorite children's books. What happens in these stories? What are the themes?