Bedtime reading is one of the highlights of everyone’s day in our house. Dad and I used to take turns—one does bath, one does reading, etc., and we still do sometimes, but more and more we seem to be drawn to reading time. There is some magical magnetic pull that makes the parent who was ostensibly given the “night off” wander in and lie down on the floor, or curl up next to the reading parent and toddler on the bed, and just listen. Sometimes, we can’t help ourselves and we get an extra book to read at the end of bedtime.
During one of those moments we were reading a book about animals (my apologies, but I forget which one), and the book talked about the baby animals hugging and snuggling with their mothers. Every time this was mentioned, our two-year-old, already snuggled next to me, would give me a hug. Dad was reading the book and he paused, looked at me, and then read the next page differently, substituting a daddy animal getting a hug.
I smiled, Dad (eventually) got a hug, and bedtime continued happily. But it did make me think. Even with all the books out there for children, even with all the emphasis on political correctness, there certainly is a lot more mommy-hugging going on in picture books than daddy-hugging.
Which is why I wanted to talk about this book today. Dad doesn’t get a hug in this one, but he does get a lot of credit for his role in child-rearing. My son mostly likes it because he likes anything and everything that has to do with seahorses. But I know he’s also getting a good message about fathers. And it’s Eric Carle (who won a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his contribution to creating meaningful picture books), so really, what’s not to like?
Summary and Review:
Male seahorses take care of the eggs after the female lays them in his pouch, and that’s exactly what Mr. Seahorse does. As Mr. Seahorse is floating through the ocean with eggs in his pouch, he meets a lot of other fish. Some of them he just floats past. Others he stops to talk to, meeting the daddy Stickleback who is watching over his nest of eggs, Mr. Tilapia who can’t talk because his mouth is full of the eggs he is taking care of, and Mr. Kurtus, who has my favorite line in the book: “Mrs. Kurtus laid her eggs and I have stuck them on my head.” If that isn’t good parenting, then really, what is?
Accentuating this great book are Eric Carle’s gorgeous paintings. In this book, every other fish the seahorse meets (those who aren’t starring in the daddy roles) is hidden behind a painted transparency. For example, the painting of a stonefish is hidden behind a transparency with a painting of a rock. The painting of several trumpetfish is hidden behind a transparency with a painting of a patch of reeds, and so in. In this way, the book teaches another lesson about camouflage (and beautiful art). Plus, my toddler really likes to turn the transparency pages, comparing the pictures on both sides of the page before and after they are covered up.
Possible conversations to have with your kids:
Well, just beware you are asking a biology major and longtime science teacher, who often gets ridiculed by my mother-in-law for telling my 2-year-old that “no, the sun doesn’t go down, the earth is just turning” and teaching him the difference between a mommy and daddy cardinal. So here we go…in my opinion, there are a million things to talk to a toddler about as you read this book! Here are some of them:
- Fish lay eggs—just like chickens, which might be a more familiar egg-laying animal to a preschooler. Although fish eggs look a lot different, and they lay a lot at one time. Then ask your child–how do the fish in the book take care of their eggs? The different daddies carry the eggs around with them in different ways. Let them discover this and tell you how.
- Daddies can take care of eggs just like mommies can. Talk about the animals your child may be familiar with where the mothers take care of eggs (like chickens). Or bring up penguins where both fathers and mothers take care of eggs.
- Camouflage: On the pages with the transparencies, ask your child to find the hidden fish before you turn the transparency page. What makes the fish hard to see behind the transparencies? They are often the same color, texture, and shape as something in the ocean around them. This is called camouflage and helps keep them hidden and safe. Ask an older preschooler to draw their own picture of a camouflaged animal. If they are really into art, give them water colors like Eric Carle used.
- Differences: Point out that each fish looks different. They are different colors, sizes, and shapes. They also do things differently–in this case, they take care of their eggs differently. It’s never too early to start teaching tolerance of differences, and simply noticing that they exist is a strong first step.
- God and Evolution: If you are more into the former, talk about all the beautiful sea creatures God made. If you are more into the latter, talk about all of the beautiful sea creatures that evolved to fill different roles in the ocean ecosystem. If you are into both, talk about the beautiful world of God’s and how these fascinating creatures evolved into it. Or just talk about what seems right to you at the time.