Tagged Books

Toddler Literature (Toddler Lessons: Part Five)

stack-of-books-1001655_1920In Part Five of the Toddler Lessons series, we are studying English Literature.

 
Toddlers are typically accomplished storytellers, and enthusiastic poets. Here are toddler takes on six literary mediums, styles and devices.

(As an added bonus with this lesson, I think we can all agree no one need actually read Romeo and Juliet ever again. You are welcome.)

 
1. Poetry

Early toddler poetry is characterised by the seminal work ‘Duck’:

‘Duck!
Duck!
Duck!
Quack!
Duck!
Mummy: duck!
DUUUUUCK!’

Bizarrely, this piece of poetry, word for word, is attributable to every young toddler ever.

As toddlers progress, their poetry moves on – often to the style of the epic poem. The epic poem ‘Mummy I Have A Complaint About Everything That Has Happened Today’ is approximately two years long. (Of course, that’s just ‘Part One: The Toddler Years’. ‘Part Two: The Teenage Years’ resumes at the age of thirteen, and is roughly five years long.) Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Homer. Twenty-four books for the Odyssey? Is that the best you could manage?

 
2. Plays

If anyone is ever in need of a quick summary of Romeo and Juliet, they could do worse than watch toddlers interacting for a few minutes. In ‘Todleo and Todliet’, two toddlers meet at a playgroup. Despite not knowing each other at all, they instantly love each other. If one of them had previously been in love with another toddler (let’s call her Rosaline, that way, if anyone actually is foolish enough to attempt to use this as a Romeo and Juliet study guide, they will at least get one mark), this is immediately forgotten. Rosaline now smells. Somehow, with no real explanation as to exactly why everyone has decided to so epically overreact, war breaks out among all of the toddlers in the room, resulting in great bloodshed on all sides. Todliet decides to play dead, though no one can quite work out why she thinks this is helpful. Todleo runs away, before deciding that he also wants to play dead because Todliet is. The entire relationship lasts about five minutes, and ends in chaos, panic and disorder for everyone in the room.

 
3. Literary Quotes

Toddlers are fans of a good literary quote, and have found each of these popular examples to be frequently applicable to their own lives.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Anyone who is foolhardy enough to give a toddler a free flow cup will be aware that toddlers are Coleridge fans:
‘Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.’
(‘Yoghurt, yoghurt everywhere, and not so much as a bloody spoonful in a mouth’ is also a popular toddler variation on the quote.)

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ pretty much sums up the toddler age. It is usually a fairly accurate description of the elation, heartbreak, giggling and sobbing that formed the emotional rollercoaster that was the preceding five minutes in a toddler’s life.

The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by…’
…And that is why I got lost. And covered in mud. And Mummy shouted.

King Lear, William Shakespeare

When they have been told off, toddlers often like to adopt King Lear’s self-pitying stance: ‘I am a [toddler] more sinned against than sinning.’ This is illustrated by anguished sobbing about how awful Mummy was to suggest that a banana was not to be inserted into the DVD player, no matter how convinced one may be that said banana is the blu-ray edition of Tangled.

 
4. Symbolism, Suggestion, Themes and Motifs

Toddler words are laden with symbolism and deeper meaning. In the famous soliloquy ‘I want raisins NOW’, for example, the evaporation of the water from the grape to make the raisin symbolises the evaporation of the toddler’s dreams of getting chocolate instead of raisins. Of course, there are those who believe the soliloquy is not symbolic of anything, and simply demonstrates that toddlers like raisins. Such disagreements, however, merely serve to confirm that toddlers are worthy of their places in the world of literature, which is rife with this type of debate. Hamlet: a tragic hero whose struggles and actions represent the mystery of death, the state of the nation, incestuous desire, and the nature of revenge…or just a bit of an arse? (If you are due to sit an exam on Hamlet any time soon, I would say that the former option is the one traditionally preferred by the exam boards. You can believe the latter on your own time, like the rest of us.)

 
5. Structure

Toddler storytellers laugh in the face of the traditional idea that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Middles, in the opinion of toddlers, take rather a lot of effort – all that formulating of plots – and waste everyone’s time. This is why the complete and unabridged version of many famous toddler works is: ‘Once upon a time…The End!’ Furthermore, many toddlers view the middles certain authors insist on putting into their books with disdain, and will refuse to allow anyone to see any pages other than the first or last. These two pages contain all the information a toddler needs, and they will not have well meaning parents assaulting their ears with an actual story.

 
6. Literary/Narrative Devices

Toddlers employ a number of important narrative devices to great effect in both their storytelling and their lives.

MacGuffin

(A plot device formed of a goal, object, etc that the protagonist pursues, with little or no explanation provided as to why it is considered to be important.)

 
Toddlers actually devote much of their lives to MacGuffins, dedicating themselves to the pursuit of some goal (getting their feet into two small plastic cups) or object (anything belonging to Mummy and unsuitable for a toddler) for reasons that are entirely inexplicable even to themselves.

Hyperbole

This is the main style of toddler storytelling. Toddlers don’t like understatement, it’s just so boring. Extensive use of hyperbole as a narrative style is how, after an uneventful day featuring a simple trip to the shops, Daddy, upon his return to from work, will come to believe the day was spent meeting Grandma. And Peppa Pig. In Austria. To go swimming. At the circus. Where we got milk (we did get milk – there has to be a little bit of truth). Whilst dressed as Snow White (everyone, including imaginary Grandma).

Plot Twist

Toddlers are unrivaled among storytellers for their ability to create a plot twist no one could see coming. Indeed, many toddler stories take such a twist that they actually become an entirely different story, bearing little (no) relation to the original: ‘We went to the shops, and I wore my shoes, and I had some raisins, and then…can you show me tiger? Cos my bedroom is an apple.’

Backstory

Toddlers like a backstory. Particularly if it is rambling, apparently interminable, and utterly irrelevant to what they are actually talking about.

Cliffhanger

The use of cliffhangers is a popular feature in toddler storytelling, usually occurring when the toddler in question gets distracted by something shiny and wanders off, leaving their audience forever mystified as to the ending of the tale.

Stream of Consciousness

Like James Joyce, toddlers are fans of the stream of consciousness, narrating exactly what is in their heads, with little editing, censorship or logic. Many critics have suggested the toddler stream of consciousness to be infinitely more entertaining and mildly more coherent than Ulysses, though this makes hardcore Joyce fans very angry.

 
 

(Please Note: Do NOT use this post as a study guide for Romeo and Juliet. Or anything else.)

 
 
You can see other posts in my Toddler Lessons series here

Reading

ReadingThe Toddler has taken up reading. Which is to say she has taken up turning the pages of books, whilst narrating a combination of what she can see in the pictures & what she remembers of the story. ‘Baby…1,2,3…Bed…Sleep…Wake up…Peepo…Dog…Peepo…Grandma…
Glasses…Hat…Peepo…The end!’

The Toddler’s current favourite book is ‘The Gruffalo’. The Toddler loves ‘The Gruffalo’. Literally. She spends much of her time with her face inside the book saying, ‘Kiss a Gruffalo!’ The Toddler no longer gets out of bed until she has looked at ‘The Gruffalo’.

One day, when The Toddler is getting up, she asks to have both ‘The Gruffalo’ and The Baby in the bed with her. Silly Mummy warns The Toddler that The Baby will try to eat ‘The Gruffalo’ if she gets hold of it. The Toddler explains the situation to The Baby: ‘No, The Baby. No eat. This: Gruffalo! Read!’ The Baby understands. She puts ‘The Gruffalo’ in her mouth. The Toddler now follows every request for ‘The Gruffalo’ with, ‘The Baby can’t eat book!’ The Baby knows this is inaccurate. There are no books she ‘can’t’ eat. There are merely books people have been careless enough to leave in her reach, and books they have not.

The Toddler offers her reading services to those in need. She sits in bed with ‘The Gruffalo’ and teddy Binker. The Toddler announces, ‘Bink sad.’ She puts a blanket over Binker’s feet: ‘Tuck in. There – better. Read a Bink.’ She picks up ‘The Gruffalo’. She opens it. She pauses. She wonders if Binker needs to learn to look after himself. She closes ‘The Gruffalo’ and flings ‘James and the Giant Peach’ at Binker: ‘Bink, read this one, Bink.’ Binker looks at the book. He does not open it. He is too sad. The Toddler relents and opens ‘The Gruffalo’ again. Binker settles in for the story. He is not disappointed: ‘Where going brown mouse? Where going brown mouse? Where going brown mouse? LUNCH OVER!’

The Toddler wants to ensure she is well read. She therefore reluctantly puts aside ‘The Gruffalo’ and picks up ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’. Also known as ‘Purple Book’ and ‘George Story’, Daddy sometimes reads this book to The Toddler at bedtime. The Toddler turns the pages. She tells her abridged version of the story: ‘No, George. Stop it, George. Naughty George!’ Silly Mummy considers that this is actually a reasonable summary of the book. The Toddler may have a career writing blurbs ahead of her. (Assuming her first vocation of Planning Officer does not work out. The Toddler is a natural. All duplo constructions erected without the appropriate permissions are immediately demolished. Furthermore, should The Toddler see anyone contemplating starting a duplo construction without planning permission, she is on site immediately with a cease and desist order. Well, more of a snatch and yell ‘NO’ order, really, but the effect is the same. I digress.)

Some of The Toddler’s abridged versions of her books are more abridged than others. The Toddler brings ‘Each Peach Pear Plum’ to Silly Mummy: ‘Mummy – read! Pea Pear Pum – read! Sit down there!’ Silly Mummy dutifully sits down there, opens the book and prepares to read.
‘No!’ The Toddler snatches the book away, ‘Me read!’
‘You want to read it yourself?’
‘Yes!’ The Toddler opens the book to the first page. She says, ‘Ee Pea Pear Pum.’ It is a good start. We are all very excited to learn what happens next in the thrilling story we feel sure awaits us. The Toddler turns to the very last page. She announces, ‘End!’ She slams the book shut. ‘All gone! Take away!’

Really, this reading lark is awfully easy. The title and the end are the important things. After all, it is clear to The Toddler that if the book has been both started and finished, it stands to reason that the book has been completed. Everything in the middle is very much optional. The Toddler wonders why people complain about how difficult it is to finish ‘War and Peace’. Do they not know where the ‘end’ page is?