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“A” Is Not For Airplane

Good Night, I Love You
Good Night, I Love You

“So, what’s this?”

“A!”

“Very good! ‘A’ as in…”

“Plane?”

“Plane? No, no! Let’s see… Oh come on, you gotta be kidding me!”

I’m checking Mark’s book and apparently, for the author, “A” is for “airplane”. This is complete bullshit. Who the fuck says “airplane”? No one, especially not  two-year-old kids. “A” is for “apple”, like the one you find in Happy Meals. Everybody knows that.

Moving on.

“This ‘B’! Tower!”

I sigh.

“… Sorry Mark, this is a building.”

We all agree that “C” is for “car”, and “D” is for “dog” (well, “Dalmatian”, but it’s a dog, right?), but conventional wisdom is lost again at “E”, which isn’t for “elephant” or “ear” but “egg”. Sure, the word “egg” is common enough, but do you have any idea how hard it is to depict an egg (i.e. a white oval shape) accurately? Well, the artist failed here. To Mark, it’s a ball, and I don’t blame him.

Raising kids also means stepping into a world you never paid attention to before. For example, the children’s section in bookstores. Before Mark, I only ventured in the “kids zone” if all the seats were taken around the magazines or travel books section. Now I regularly hang out there, trying to find new books for special snowflake while he sips his very own vanilla bean frappuccino (okay, the Starbucks drink only happened once, I’m cheap).

Finding good books is not as easy as it seems.

I have two criteria: either they must have nice imagery, in which case the storyline is irrelevant (I make something up); either they must have a narrative Mark can relate to, like a kid making a mess, going to the playground, riding the bus or taking a bath.

There are tons of picture books but of course, there is no story to tell and the objects depicted are sometime a strange pick, as if someone was going through the dictionary and picking random words. I mean, “acorn”? “Belt”? “X-ray”? “Viper”? How many kids are familiar with these?

Another trend is what that I call “self-help for kids”, like “I’m a big brother now” (hint, your parents still love you), “the babysitter is coming” (you parents need a kinky date night but yeah, they will be back) or “I’m using the potty” (toilet humour included). Ah, potty training… I’m sorry, I’m French, I don’t do bathroom humour. I’m casual about it, of course, but I draw the line at reading Once Upon a Potty or Everyone Poops. It just feels wrong as a bedtime story.

For a long time, Mark’s favourite book was Good Night, I Love You. I liked it too. The drawings were cute, depicting two kids’ bedtime routine.

After three months of reading it every single night, I started to get slightly tired of it. I had two storytelling modes: the complete story (“… and they put their pajama on—oh, look, a green pajama! And a red pajama!) and the abridged version (“Alright, the two kids are tired, they take a bath and go to sleep… just like you, goodnightIloveyou”).

One day, Mark got sick of it too and demanded to read his truck book. We had a fight about it because I do not read the “truck book”, a book listing—you guessed it—all kinds of trucks. I mean, how am I supposed to read that? “This is a garbage truck. This is a construction truck. This is a tow truck. This is… some kind of truck.”

So I bought more books. I bought The Wheels on the Bus, which turned out to be a mistake because Mark expected me to sing. In case you didn’t know it, The wheels on the bus go round and round. Round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round. All through the town.

I bought a book called Mine!, in which two kids fight for the same toys. Except that Mark didn’t go through the possessiveness stage (maybe it’s coming up, or maybe our communist upbringing paid off). So I renamed the book the “mess book”, and we read the story of two kids making big messes with their toys.

And then we have old French books. Some of them were mine, like Ploum or Petit Ours Brun.

Times have changed, I’m telling you.

A month ago, my mum sent us an English-language edition of a French classic, Ernest and Célestine, published in 1982.

This is the story of Ernest (the bear) and Célestine (the little mouse). Now, don’t ask me why an adult bear and a mouse live together downtown Paris. Oh, and there is no mommy around, and the bear smokes a pipe. Anyway, the story goes, they live in a very old apartment and the roof is leaking but they don’t have the money to fix it. One night, Celestine has an idea: she retrieves Ernest’s violin from the attic and encourages him to play. He is a good musician, and after a sleepless night spent playing music and singing, they go perform in the street. People love their show and give the buskers spare change. The first thing they do is to buy food, and they have a huge dinner at the apartment, complete with bottles of wine. “How about the roof? We spent all the money!” the mouse realizes. “It’s okay, we enjoyed a nice dinner. We will make more money tomorrow!”

I love the (American) reader’s comment on Amazon:

Making money doing what you love. Cool.
Spending it as soon as you earn it. Not so cool.

Subversive French “literature” from the 1980s?

I’m in.

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