Let’s not call them children. Let’s call them what they are: sticky, uncouth hooligans whose more riotous ambitions are curbed only by poor coordination and an inability to organize over the Internet.
Luckily, there are manuals to help. Some are written to help parents cope. Others are aimed at the hooligans themselves, in seeming hope that they can be reformed and delivered into adulthood as sober, contributing members of society. These latter manuals are commonly called “children’s books” and come with titles like Brushing Your Teeth for Fun and Profit, Why You Should Go to Sleep Before Mama Goes Batty, People With Giant Moles Have Feelings Too! and Maize and Me: A Child’s Basic Primer of Crop Rotation.
Unfortunately, none of the books reviewed here serve such good, instructive purposes. You will find no singing of the virtues of basic hygiene or the importance of holding one’s siblings in dignified esteem. Instead, we choose to warn you of another breed of child’s book, the Hooligan Enabler. This horrid, terrible, rotten tradition, epitomized in yesteryear by such tracts as The Cat in the Hat and Where the Wild Things Are, continues unabated today.
Watch out for these titles and whatever you do, do not let them fall into the hands of your young hooligan: It will only encourage him or her.
Two for hooligans age 2 and up
Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
As a zookeeper makes his nightly rounds, he is tailed by a gorilla who frees the animals from their cages one by one. The animals follow the zookeeper home, and when he retires to bed, they curl up and nest around the bedroom, the elephant slumped over on the floor like a giant gray bean bag. The animals’ chorus of “good nights” startles the zookeeper’s wife, who sleepily walks the menagerie back to the zoo. Still, the gorilla finds a way to stay free and wriggle back into bed.
Vividly colored illustrations and the gorilla’s mischievous streak make this the best book about bedtime since Goodnight Moon.
T is for Terrible by Peter McCarty
The preschool-age hooligan is often characterized by a fondness for dinosaurs. In T is for Terrible, a Tyrannosaurus Rex makes a plea for a little understanding, arguing that he cannot help the way he is: “If I could, I would be a vegetarian. But I am Tyrannosaurus Rex, and I do not eat trees.”
The narrative is infused with quiet wit and the illustrations add an oddly haunting quality to the story. McCarty’s luminescent soft-pencil drawings are beautifully textured and awash with radiant whites and muted greens.
A few for fomenters age 4 or so
No, David! by David Shannon
In a note at the book’s beginning, author David Shannon writes, “A few years ago, my mother sent me a book I made when I was a little boy. It was called No, David, and it was illustrated with drawings of David doing all sorts of things he wasn’t supposed to do. The text consisted entirely of the words ‘no’ and ‘David.’ (They were the only words I knew how to spell.)”
Inspired, Shannon decided to remake the book. The result is antic and captivating, boisterous but never obnoxious. The vibrant, outsize illustrations depict the young character of David tracking mud through the living room, standing on a chair to reach the cookie jar, banging on pots, jumping on his bed in a superhero cape, and picking his nose — in other words, enacting all the childhood behaviors that invariably make a parent cry, “No, [insert hooligan’s name here]!”
Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel (Illustrator)