One-Minute Book Reviews

June 13, 2008

Is It Time to Say ‘No, Thank You’ to Children’s Books About Manners by Mo Willems, Whoopi Goldberg and Others?

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Picture books about politeness don’t always please

TiME to SAY “PLEASE”! By Mo Willems. Hyperion, 40 pp., $15.99. Ages: See discussion below.

By Janice Harayda

Why are so many children’s books about manners so rude? With a wedding on my calendar this weekend, I looked into several high-profile entries in the field. And I can’t recommend any of the books wholeheartedly except for the gifted Diane Goode’s Mind Your Manners!, which I reviewed a while back.

John Bemelmans Marciano trades on the fame of his grandfather’s Madeline in Madeline Says Merci (Viking, 2001), but he falls far short of the quality of the original in this book of derivative art and painfully strained poetry about being polite. Whoopi Goldberg’s Whoopi’s Big Book of Manners (Hyperion, 2006) has garish pictures by Alexander “Olo” Sroczynski and a muddled text. (Each page describes a breach of manners that’s worse than the one that preceded it — not a bad concept, except that the book says, for example, that speaking with food in your mouth is worse that not saying you’re sorry if you do something bad.) The biggest disappointment comes from Mo Willems, whose Knuffle Bunny has helped to make him one of America’s most popular children’s authors.

TiME to SAY “PLEASE”! is the literary equivalent of a loud, messy person who sits next to you on the bus and drops crumbs on your seat. Your three-year-old may love the loud, messy person and want to lick the crumbs off the arm rests. But is this, dear parent, behavior you wish to encourage?

Willems introduces four basic terms – “Please,” “Thank you,” “Sorry,” and “Excuse Me” – in this sequel to his apparently deathless TiME to PEE! (“a National Parenting Publications Gold Medalist”). As in his book about toilet-training, Willems encloses his text in flags, signs, balloons, masts or other frames hoisted by mice who are so frenetic, they appear to have the rodent counterpart of ADHD.

TiME to SAY “PLEASE”! is a how-to book, so instead of telling a story, it gives advice such as: “If you ever really want something, / really, really want something, / don’t grab it! / Go ask a big person / and please say ‘Please’!” This didactic purpose isn’t a problem in itself, because there are many good instructional books for the very young.

But the format sets up other problems. Children often begin learning about manners at age two or younger. A mother on Amazon says she used TiME to SAY “PLEASE”! with an 18-month-old. But there’s a board game in the back of this book with a spinner that could detach, a potential choking hazard. So the publisher advises against giving the book to children under age 3.

Yet the advice may be too simple for children over the age of 3. The book doesn’t mention “You’re welcome,” for example. And the erratic capitalization and punctuation could confuse a child who is just starting to learn about words and letters. As Willems might put it, it’s TiME to SAY “NO, THANK YOU”!

Best line/picture: The back cover. It says “Thank you!” on two flags held by a mouse, a much less manic image than many others in the book.

Worst line/picture: The capitalization of the title on the front cover. Then there’s, “There are all kinds of reasons to say ‘Please’ … When you want a toy, or to borrow someone else’s truck,” as though a truck were not a toy.

Consider reading instead: Diane Goode’s Mind Your Manners! (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2005), a witty sendup of a 19th-century etiquette primer www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/12/23/.This picture book by a Caldecott Honor artist is better than the others in this review and speaks to a broader age range web.mac.com/goodedog/Diane_Goode/dianegoode.com.html.

Published: June 2005 www.mowillems.com

Furthermore: Willems wrote Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, a Caldecott Honor Book, and Knuffle Bunny www.hyperionchildrensbooks.com/board/displayBook.asp?id=1407. I haven’t read either and would welcome comments from anyone who has and could compare them to TiME to SAY “PLEASE”!, which may be inferior to Willems’s other books.

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© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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