2007-06-21

Steig and Peet

I have been enjoying two fabulous children's authors: William Steig and Bill Peet. They have a lot in common, it turns out.

Both were American. They were contemporaries: Steig was born in 1907 and died in 2003 (aged 95); Peet was born in 1915 and died in 2002 (aged 87). Both charmingly illustrated their own stories*. Both had interesting careers outside of their work as authors: Steig was a cartoonist for The New Yorker; Peet wrote for Disney.

Both wrote stories about innocent child or animal protagonists battling the odds to achieve something. Steig's characters outsmart evil captors, break free from enchantments, and face storms to find their way home for a happy reunion with loved ones. Peet's stories frequently contain an environmental message. In one story, a little bird flies from New York City to California to live in a redwood tree. In another, a group of animals hop a train to try to find a new home after their habitat is destroyed.

Gripping stories, sweet pictures, engaging characters... yes, yes, yes. But what I am enjoying the most at the moment is the rich vocabulary in these books. They are for quite young children, really, but neither Steig nor Peet shies away from big or uncommon words. Here's what I've found in a quick flip-through of the ones that happen to be lying about:
- Steig: perplexed, ceased, compote, exclamations, defecate**
- Peet: chortled***, blunder, diminishing, bedraggled, sycamore, indestructible

I read aloud to my kids every night. And I've had enough of Go Dog Go, Green Eggs and Ham****, and Are You My Mother? I love books like this instead: books that engage me as much as they engage the kids. My kids prefer them too.

* With a few exceptions; for instance, Steig's later work was illustrated by others. Hard to draw when you're, like, 92.

**Seriously!

*** Peet loves this word! I've seen him use it in at least three different stories.

****Am I the only one out there who is not a fan of Dr. Seuss's illustrations? Creepy. Why are they all smiling with their eyes closed? And all those floppy feet...

13 comments:

Buford said...

nice one; wow that's a lot of foot-notes! and i'm coming out of the closet with you on Seuss.

Mark Hanington said...

You loved bith authors when you were tiny. Did you by any chance think that you had never encoutered them before?

fiona-h said...

steig, yes (faintly)... peet, no! wow - that's nice to hear.

Darren said...

I like the idea of children's books that push the envelope a bit on vocabulary... but of course, I always liked reading to start with. (I don't recall ever reading children's books... but parents had plenty of books for grownups lying around when I was a kid).

I'm not sure what the Xbox generation makes of books with big words.

Mr. Kite said...

Hey, I like Seuss. Fox in Socks is my all time favorite. Never heard of Steig or Peet. (Sounds like beer names to me.)

And I love Seuss's illustrations. Intrigued by them as a kid, still delighed by them as a supposed adult.

You gotta love any children's book that uses the word defecate, but I would have probably preferred poop or some other more unsavoy synonym.

Molly said...

A nice full vocabulary is why I love reading E.B. White's stories (even though I otherwise despiseStuart Little for being a self-absorbed twit). I don't know of any other children's literature that uses words like "crepuscular". I wasn't at all surprised that Charlotte's Web was the first "chapter book" my kids chose to read on their own.
A few years ago a textbook editor in the US included a modified version of Peter Rabbit in a reading anthology. It seems that phrases such as "lipperty-lipperty" are too challenging for young readers.

Molly said...

Younger daughter would have me point out that one reason she found Lemony Snickett's books so odious was his habit of condescendingly defining (in parentheses) every word that might possibly be unfamiliar to someone under the age of four or five.

richard said...

Bill Peet is so, so good. I've read The Caboose Who Got Loose a couple dozen times in the last few months, and I'll cheerfully read it lots more. Plus Huge Harold, The Whingdingdilly, and Chester the Worldly Pig.

Seuss, I don't know. I read 'em and I love 'em, but I definitely understand the distaste. Only a few of them have the real power to them, but some others in the Seuss series by other authors (including Theo. LeSieg) work well. Maybe Have You Seen My Mother? would be a good one -- Georgia used to cry every single time and then demand I read it again, but now she remembers it ends well!

Zootenany Hoodlum said...

Are you my mother? is my favourite book.

And, um, since it's come up:

Are you my mother?

fiona-h said...

I do like Are You My Mother. I do, I do. But I'm also happy to move on...

richard said...

Hey, have you ever tried the books by Lynley Dodd? Some of them rhyme beautifully, but some don't but remain a hoot. They're about either a rascally cat named Slinki Malinki or a similarly rascally dog named Hairy Maclary (from Donaldson's Dairy). Our favourites are the eponymous Slinki Malinki and Hairy Maclary in Rumpus at the Vet.

fiona-h said...

no! but will check them out (literally and figuratively). thanks for the tip!

richard said...

Um, I meant Slinky Malinki....