Tweedle Dee and Twaddle Dumb: Balancing Quality Children’s Lit. With All the Rest

Everything is big balancing act; from the food in our kitchens to watching television and getting sleep.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that choosing books is right up there.  It doesn’t seem like it should be that complicated, I mean it’s just children’s literature right?  How hard can it be it’s not like there’s a lot out there in the children’s section that is questionable.  Right?

Now, I’m not going sit here and tell you that your precious angel child should only read crumbling tomes of time-tested literature – the crumblier the better.  I’m not going to guilt anyone for having a popular book series or a collection of “Disney” stories.  Like anything it’s a balancing act – a little bit here and a little bit there to make a whole balanced picture.

The “My Book House” series was such a good investment –
classic lit that grows with the child. “Enchanted Isles” is another collection
of children’s lit from my husband’s collection.

I really appreciate the Charlotte Mason definition of “twaddle”, that is books that are silly and insignificant among other things.  It does help to have a frame work when trying to pick out books that are worth spending your hard earned money on, but I can’t say my home is 100% twaddle free.

To pick out quality children’s literature I look for a number of details.

  1. The book must have good storytelling; it must have a point.  Not just “Here’s a character being silly and achieving nothing”.  It’s not necessary that characters go through a complete change in their natures, but let’s just say I really don’t see the point of children’s books about pigeons begging to drive a bus.
  2. The characters should act in a way I would like my children to copy; this can be tricky to find perfectly, but good children’s lit. should not encourage my kids to talk back, have bad manners, or use language I don’t want to encourage.  This doesn’t mean the characters are perfect, but that bad behavior isn’t rewarded.  The more a book inspires a child to imagine worlds of their own, have adventures and, best of all, go outside the better.
  3. The book should have quality illustrations.  I’m stickler for good illustration – a child should be able to get lost in both the story and pictures of a good children’s picture book.
  4. The books should be a quality physical material.  I’m a fan of investing, when I find a worthwhile book, in a quality hardback edition.  While there maybe be some bumps in the road, and exceptions (you know your child best of course) I do believe children can learn to be respectful of books at an early age and quality reading materials do help.  I keep a running mental list of library favorites of paperback copies that have gotten the step of approval when I’m at thrift and consignment stores – quality does not have to equal lots of money if you can keep an open eye out.
  5. The language must suit the age, but not be dumbed down or over simplified.  Children expand their vocabulary by hearing a wide vocabulary.  Don’t underestimate your children.  It might be a appropriate to stick to three sentence pages for younger children, but don’t limit them to the same 100 words over and over again.
Big words for small kids.  This is “The Mice Who Loved Words” by Daniel Weiss
So what do I do when “twaddle” makes it’s way into my home?  Generally, I just say “thank you” or “okay” – usually the way this happens is from a gift or at the library.  A gift is a gift no matter what, enjoy it and be appreciative that you were given a book and not something that makes noise.  A library book can be enjoyed over a short period of time and returned.  I do believe there’s something to be said about the idea that reading is reading.  If your child is only interested in the adventures of Thomas the Train, Lightening McQueen or Elsa and will not pick up a book otherwise – than read those character books until they fall apart; something is better than nothing.

Should be titled “The basket of books mommy refuses to read at bedtime”
That brings me to the key in the balance – don’t be afraid to let the twaddle guide you.  If Johnny or Susie is only interested in the latest Disney books and stories, read those, but look deeper.
Suggestions in action – some of our collection of the original “Thomas” and
 “Winnie the Pooh” along with a few other favorites.
 I will pick up just about any “Children’s Choice Book Club” book I can find
at a thrift store(that little ghost monster waving his hat on the spine).
The animated Thomas the Train was originally a book series in the early 1900’s.  Winnie-the-Pooh, The Jungle Book and most Disney Princesses have original stories that they have grown from.  Get your Elsa fan a copy of the original Snow Queen (there are so many good versions out there), then discover “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”,”All-fur” and other classic fairy tales.  
Don’t be afraid to find a place for the twaddle without getting rid of it.  Most of ours lives in a basket in the living room and in our car – easily accessible for the littles,but not in the bookshelves we get our bedtime stories from.

That is how we do balance in our house.  How about you?

16 thoughts on “Tweedle Dee and Twaddle Dumb: Balancing Quality Children’s Lit. With All the Rest

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  1. I love your list! That's pretty much exactly the rules I go by. I'm pretty ruthless when it comes to twaddle, though, and all clutter really. We don't really have much coming in since I'm pretty much the sole purveyor of the books and I'm kinda afraid of the library so it's not much of an issue.


  2. I do envy your lack of clutter… I fight that battle constantly!

    I should have added that currently for non-keeping/twaddle/I just don't like them books the pattern is “the book basket pictured above” —> “car” —-> “garbage/donate” Book don't seem to last long in the car so it's a good way to love 'em and toss 'em without too much guilt.


  3. Ha! Molly, we use the same “car trick” for books that we really don't want in the house 🙂 Books that I think are really horrendous and no child should have to rad, I throw out 😦 The books we keep have good illustrations, engaging language, and a story that even adults can appreciate. The last one is huge for me – I feel like a picture book is only a “great” picture book if the story is entertaining to readers of every age 🙂


  4. So true! There are books I ask my son to pick out for bedtime, just because I enjoy them. I think that's why I jumped into longer kid's books from the start and bipassed a lot of “board books”, if I was going to read them I wanted to be interested too.


  5. My MIL–bless her heart–is often getting us twaddle. As an English major some of them hurt a little bit. 😉 Most are board books and go in the board book basket (although we have some really good board books too!). I like your attitude and method of dealing with it. 🙂


  6. Ah! I just did a twaddle sweep through our bookshelves and took it all to our favorite used bookstore. I had all the kids with me so they saw what I was doing (although they didn't know which books I had exactly) but I let them each pick one book to get with our new book credits so they went along with it. Two bags of twaddle in and only one twaddly book came back out 🙂 I also totally abandoned the books the store didn't want which was awfully naughty but II guess I'm just getting wild in my old age.

    Is it bad that I traded my kids beloved twaddle mostly for two leather bound Agatha Christie mysteries?


  7. How do you pick non-twaddle books at the library? There's so many and most I don't know.

    Also, why do so many books from the the 60's and 70's use the word stupid? I don't want my kids using that word but it keeps popping up. (Also in Charlie Brown specials!)


  8. Having grown up as a kid in the 70's, the word “stupid” was the word we used. It was for anything: thoughtless, ignorant, rude, unlikely, etc. The literature reflected the language of the time. So I don't view it as a bad word, though I try not to use it. I have friends who don't want their children using it, so I've tried to minimize my usage of it.

    Some of the worst kid's books are the “series” : Bailey School kids, Rainbow Fairies, Box Car Children etc. There are a ton of books in the series, with bland writing , hardly any plot, and recycled situations. I'll let my kids read them, but I have stopped buying them. Library only! Or a free one from reading programs (like RIF or the Summer program at the library) – they can pick out a twaddle book if I can't steer them to a good one. Every six months or so, I go through the bookshelves remove the twaddle. if it's in good condition, I donate to Salvation Army; if not, it's trashed.

    I have stopped buying books for the most part (I miss my book budget from my single days!) . The library has a lot of great books, and librarians can be great guide of you're looking for a good book. To help my kids who were hooked only only one series or one character, the librarians could guide them to something new or more advanced but similar.


  9. I have the hardest time at the library! My kid is at an age where I feel like I can only half-blindly grab a book of the shelf and throw it in our bag before he tears off without telling me. It's getting a little better lately, but not much.

    A few times I've gotten it together and made a mental note of a book I remember from childhood or remember someone recommending and placed a request online, so it was already sorted for me when we got to the library. In my head I am also the kind of person who spends time scouring the internet for children's book recommendations and places requests online ahead of time. In reality I have never done that.

    That is my best and only library hack.


  10. I love this post! Especially an acknowledgement of the value of twaddle! And a simultaneous, I hear you to the above commenter on the kid's book series. I went through a serious, months long Babysitter's Club bender probably in third grade (possibly fourth, who knows, I lacked the self-awareness to be self-concious about my reading level in grade school and always). In hindsight I think it was edifying some of my natural interests and definitely building some confidence about my ability to read book after book after book. And there's just something about childhood that seems to crave repetition. Eventually my mother properly convinced me that the books were “junk food” and shamed/bought me new books that snapped me out of it. In full disclosure, I regularly embrace the adult equivalent of twaddle and my mother no longer feels obliged to instruct my reading habits. But at least I am aware of the phenomenon and maybe maybe someday I will stop. Who knows. All that to say: as a parent, twaddle is painful, but I can appreciate the value, too.

    I hope you don't mind me publishing a post in the comment section of your post. Your blog is pretty new to me. I'm a fan. We've also run across each other in the comment section on other blogs a few times before.


  11. I love posts in my comments section!

    In college a friend and I decided there were often two categories of various forms of entertainment – for books there were “stories” and “literature”, visually there were “movies” and “films”. Each could be enjoyed for it's own merits, but one was a bit more of an “art” than the other.

    I definitely read my share of twaddle, but try to balance out good stories with good literature.


  12. Bonnie
    I spent hours with my online reservation catalogue open and booklists and bookreviews, cross checking and reserving. Still get some duds but helps. I'm also quite firm at telling the children at the library, “it's twaddle, we're not taking it” though I'll cave and allow one twaddle book if they really beg. It's so hard. Actually I spent a few years not even taking the kids, just picking from reservation desk and running.


  13. Oh wow! I have only very recently (like last week) realized the importance of twaddle in my education. Do you ascribe to a Charlotte Mason model of homeschooling? Anything else? I think my husband, like you, would prefer to cut to the chase. I can appreciate the merits of both sides, but I'd like to roll it around in my head.


  14. Laura – I'm a big fan of Charlotte Mason in general (but not a homeschooler… just a home educator). I think a good balance is important – not every kid is going to love all of the books from the 1800-early 1900's that are popular in CM lists, so a little give and take can be helpful.


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