The Right Book, the Right Reader: On Licensed Characters

Sometimes, the right book for a young reader is one about someone they already know.

I had a great children's lit teacher in library school. She assigned huge, huge masses of books each week that I read in tottering stacks at the Bezazian Branch of the Chicago Public Library-- I told my friends that I didn't count the books I read for that class in numbers, but in feet. In one of our earliest classes, I remember this teacher going on a rant about how there were so many wonderful children's books that there was never any need for a library to buy any "crap," and she never wanted to come to any of our libraries in the future and see "crap on the shelves." I hiss-whispered to another student, "what does she mean by crap?" She shrugged and said, "like, TV tie-ins and stuff."

TV tie-ins are books based on TV series. I don't know if that is what my teacher meant by "crap" or not, but as my classmate demonstrated, they're often sneered at by librarians. And not for nothing! The writing is uninspired, with many plots lifted from episodes. They're flimsy and have to be replaced often. And their primary purpose is to make money for the tv show.

But there's a reason you'll find scads of Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, and even Transformers picture books in your local library: kids LOVE them. I can't get the LEGO Ninjago books on the shelf fast enough. Kids who don't get excited about anything else in the library will go wide-eyed at the sight of a Disney princess. Kids love familiarity and repetition, and I think of TV tie-ins as a familiar character telling a story. 

Whether or not a child who's obsessed with Dora and Diego goes on to read voraciously, insisting on reading every single Dora book (or having them read aloud) can bring real advantages. A study just out this week affirms that reading for pleasure--anything the child chooses-- gives children more educational advantages than having two parents with college degrees.

So a battered copy of Dora Loves Boots may be just the right book for some little readers. But what about their parents? The repetition that's so good for kids' developing brains can be very hard on parents' nerves.... and those Dora books are LONG. If you have a young Dora fan at home and don't want to hear another word about what Map thinks is the best route to the enchanted forest, have I got a "right book" for you:

Meet Brownie and Pearl. I've seen many a Dora fan won over by this series, with its short-and-sweet text and candy-colored illustrations. There are only one or two sentences on each page, and the font is large enough that you may find your child reading along with you. And it sure doesn't hurt that Brownie looks a little bit like a familiar someone from TV.

--Miss Amy


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