Reading CURIOUS GEORGE to my two year old granddaughter has been a revelation.
In truth, before now, it's never been one of my favorite books. Although it's been translated into twelve languages and sold millions of copies, I did not understand its appeal. But now that I've read it with a two year, I finally get it.
CURIOUS GEORGE is a work of genius.
Really. The story so aptly mirrors the world as my granddaughter, Molly, (age two years and two months, by the way) sees it, opens it to philosophical discussion and ends with a sense of the miraculous. Not only did I learn to love this book, it taught me quite a bit about writing books for children too.
I was babysitting Molly at her house and I asked her to pick a few books to read before naptime.
When she pulled GEORGE off the shelf I wasn't thrilled. I thought the story would be too long for a two year old's attention span, and dated too, with that ringing telephone and all.
Boy, was I wrong.
Let's start with the cover. Does the cover show George eating a banana or with the man with the yellow hat? No. The cover shows Geroge being led away be two firemen. More about why I consider this genius a little later.
Molly was captivated by the story from the first few pages. When we got to the page where George is caught by the man with the big yellow hat, Molly asked, "Where'd George's mommy go?"
For a child Molly's age, Mommy is everything. When Molly was one and half and we read THE THREE BEARS by Byron Barton whenever we came to the page where Goldilocks had broken Baby Bear's green chair, Molly would point to it and say, "Mommy". As in, Mommy will take care of that broken chair. So George was caught because Mommy was not there to protect him. A two year old is trying to understand her world, and the safety of Mommy makes that exploration possible. "Where'd Mommy go?" is actually the central conflict of this story. Without Mommy to take care of him and protect him, George is left to explore a confusing world. He is literally at sea, as he is in the next scene, when the man with the yellow hat takes George onto a boat.
When he gets to the city and goes to the man's house, George tries to understand the world by being just like the man. He eats dinner at the table, smokes a pipe, and wears the man's pajamas. But when he copies the man by using the telephone as he does, trouble ensues, big trouble. GEORGE HAD TELEPHONED THE FIRE STATION!
Firefighters are pretty important to a two year old child. Most children take a field trip to the fire station sometime in preschool or kindergarten. Firefighter hats are part of most dress up bins, and shiny fire engines race down streets. So when George phones the fire station it is a super big deal.
I didn't know how I would explain prison to Molly, but I didn't need to. The picture of George in a dull, grey place all alone was the only explanation that she needed. It is a terrible, dark moment for George, and for the story.
But he runs away, and then the miraculous - George sees a balloon man.
Balloons are magical for a two year old child. They seem alive, they seem to have personalities. Just think about the wonderful French movie, THE RED BALLOON, and you will have an inkling of what children feel for balloons.
Molly was mesmerized when I read about George wanting a red balloon, then getting the entire bunch of balloons instead. The balloons whisk him away and he flies through the air holding tightly to them, just as he had tried to fly like the seagulls when he was on the boat in the beginning of the story. The balloons lead him back to the man with the big yellow hat.
In the last picture, when George is at the zoo, not only is he holding the red balloon he wanted, all of the other animals have their own balloon too.
Magical, and completely satisfying.