16-Page Read: Wiggle

As a father, I’ve begun delving a little deeper into the world of children’s books. Sure, Sierra can’t read. She can barely see the pictures right now. But I’m learning a lot about children’s books – namely, that they aren’t as sappy and cheesy as I remember. In fact, a few of them are quite clever.

So I present the 16-Page Read – a short review of one of these children’s books.

Wiggle by Doreen Cronin and Scott Menchin
Wiggle by Doreen Cronin
I love children’s books.

Many of us new parents do. We take it as a rite of passage – the realization that children’s books are way better than we ever remembered, and a secret passion we all possess with our children.

I’ve totally embraced the genre, finding a simple joy in reading them aloud, reveling in their brevity and admiring their design. They’re unlike a novel in nearly every way, focusing on artistic merit rather than literary content; on color and rhyming and interesting word combinations that may or may not be grammatically correct, fun instead of enrichment.

Not to say that novels aren’t fun. They are. But they can be so burdensome.

Think about when you were younger. Imagine a colorful book with nonsense words. Lying next to it is a brown covered edition of The Grapes of Wrath. You chose the children’s book, because reading shouldn’t be work. And at that age, The Grapes of Wrath is work.

So I’m reminded of easier times when I open the bright cover of a children’s book. Lately, the book reminding me of my wasted youth is Wiggle by Doreen Cornin.

Wiggle is a case study in wiggling. It features an adorably drawn dog that asks the reader several questions about wiggling. That’s really all there is to it. Sample pages include: “When you wiggle with gorillas, do they make a wiggle noise?” or “Wiggle slowly when with polar bears. They’re very wiggle shy.”

Aside from the concerns of teaching children that they can freely walk up to wild animals and shake their tushes to and fro, the book is pretty neat. What I keep realizing is how sophisticated children’s books have become – how abstract in both words and illustrations. Years ago, when I was gnawing on Little Golden Books with slobbery gums, the stories were straight forward, with a beginning and end, and they all featured the same watercolor paintings or hand drawn illustrations. If you wanted abstract, you had to go down to the Dr. Seuss section.

Now, hundreds of children’s books are being placed on the market that feature arbitrary stories, nonsensical construction and design-oriented illustrations. Wiggle, for instance, pairs a loosely colored set of illustrations with at least one real-life image. The dog is standing on a roughly cut out picture of real grass, while on another page he’s staring up at a real pancake that has recently landed on his head. I love the combination – it’s something you’d see on an award-winning AIGA sanctioned design, not in a children’s book market once dominated with traditional illustrations and narratives.

So I guess books like Wiggle give me a lot of faith in the area of children’s books. The days of Dick and Jane are gone – these are great books that appeal to parents and kids, featuring wonderful design and great, clever writing.

I’ll admit, I thought children’s books would be boring. I thought they’d be too simple for my attention. I imagined myself searching high and low for the perfect books in order to convey a love of reading onto my child.

Not with Wiggle. Instead, I love it. When you wiggle where your wings would be, wiggles fill the sky indeed.

This was lovingly handwritten on September 11th, 2007