Steve Wiley Recommends Three Cool Kids Books with Important Messages

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Steve Wiley is Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood. He's a slightly unorthodox father of five who will weigh in weekly with his mildly-rebellious views and observations. If you'd like to see how he came to write this column, watch the intro video. This week he recommends three kids' books with phenomenal messages.

Christopher Robin Should Have Had It So Good

When it comes to children's books, my kids are lucky. They get the best. Our house is a veritable library of awesome creations from which to choose.

Why? Because of Teacher Beth, the matriarch of Wileysworld, and Aunt Katie, her sister and frequent Wileysworld visitor. You see, both of them have spent nearly their entire lives teaching and developing children in classrooms, in child study labs, and of course, in the home. When it comes to picking out great kid's books, they are both connoisseurs.

So over the years, I've read some pretty good stuff. I've seen some smokin' art too. For all you young pups that have kids on the way, here's three sweet children's books that The Parent Hood recommends, and the important lessons of each.

See also: - Parenthood: Home Schooling My Kids with Jon Stewart and the Daily Show - Parenthood: A Little League of Our Own: The Irony of a Rebellious Coach

What's the Morale of the Story, Dad? Just like when I'm watching TV with my kids (see Home Schooling with The Daily Show), when I'm reading books to my kids (which these days is primarily my youngest daughter), I try to take time to highlight life lessons that lie within the story.

Along those lines, each of these three books are tremendous creative vehicles for delivering what I feel is a very important message.

3. The Big Orange Splot (Story and Art by Daniel Manus Pinkwater) Our house has an orange tree in the front yard. Not "orange tree" like a citrus tree ... we actually have an ORANGE tree (see the pic). It was painted by my lovely wife, who brought this book into our lives very early, along with it's magnificent message: Be yourself and follow your dreams.

The book tells the story of Mr. Plumbean, who lives in a meticulous neighborhood that all looks the same, just the way the neighbors like it. When a seagull mysteriously drops a bucket of orange paint on Plumbean's house, rather than paint over it, he adds glorious colors and animals and plants and makes it just the way he truly loves it.

Of course, the neighbors think Plumbean has "flipped his lid", and they send a representative to talk some sense into him. However, after they drink lemonade into the night, the neighbor turns his house into a ship. This happens to each neighbor in turn, until the neighborhood is the bastion of individuality.

You could say that this book and its theories have influenced our careers, our family decisions, and most importantly, our time. It's a principle that moved us from the HOAs of Chandler to the wacky world of Tempe. It's the philosophy thats helped a once conservative guy like me to be OK with a piece of art in the front yard. It's a philosophy that we hope our kids will always embrace.

2. Old Turtle (Story by Douglas Wood, Watercolors by Cheng-Khee Chee)

Never again will I pretend to know what God is -- not to myself or to my kids -- because I don't truly know.

I've studied some great theories though, and I love to discuss them with my kids (and just about anyone who will listen). This book represents one of them. The idea that God is everything, everywhere, all the time. Not something separate from you or I or the ant or the mountain. The notion that God Is.

With the help of some truly outstanding watercolors, Old Turtle highlights the cooperation and unity necessary to make God (including you, me, and the wind) happy. It tells us that the animals, elements, and minerals had to figure it out first, which they only did after an argument, eventually settled with some wise advice from the old turtle. It tells us that after years of arguing about what God is and messing up the Earth, humans are starting to get it too.

Aunt Katie brought us this one in 2003 (I know because her artful writing is always at the front of the countless books she has bought for her nieces and nephews). Hopefully its message will live on in the minds of our children.

1. The Three Questions (Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth, based on a story by Leo Tolstoy)

Another theory that I love -- and try to live -- is the theory of staying in the present moment. It's a theme that seems to run throughout all religions (most obviously in Buddhism), an idea that I've read and heard echoed by my favorite philosophers like Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell.

In The Three Questions, the theory is presented in a youthful retelling of a short story by the same name, written by Russian novelist/philosoper Leo Tolstoy in 1903. How's that for giving your kids some good material? Tolstoy.

The important message is found in the events that lead our hero, young Nikolai, and his friends, the heron, the monkey, and the dog, to figure out the answer to the three questions:

1. When is the best time to do things? 2. Who is the most important one? 3. What is the right thing to do?

Like Old Turtle, the answers are delivered by a wise turtle, aptly named "Leo" (and the illustrations are watercolors that are good enough to warrant paying for the book just for arts-sake). Like Old Turtle, this one was an Aunt Katie gift (Christmas 2002). Finally, like Old Turtle, and The Big Orange Splot, it's got a tremendous message for life ... as we see it in Wileysworld.

If these are messages that you and your family can embrace, check out these great books. If the messages aren't for you, then look for kid's books that carry a lesson you do embrace. There's a ton of great ones out there. I could have made this a top ten list, but we'll save the rest for another post.

For this week, from a "not so neat" street in Tempe, this is The Parent Hood signing out. Check out the videos for readings or slides of each book. Don't forget to visit your local indie bookstore for your copy!

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