Questions for Li’l Readers  
by Miriam Glassman
From The Horn Book Nov/Dec 2008

 By Miriam 

 More than ever before, children are urged to actively engage in their reading. School texts come loaded down with comprehension questions. Trade fiction for young readers is pre-packaged with questions to spark meaningful discussion in parent-child book groups. Is it only a matter of time before the trend trickles down to the picture book crowd? Will preschoolers and kindergartners be delving into the texts of classic favorites with questions like these? Discuss.


Madeline— Don’t you secretly wish Miss Clavel was your mommy? Madeline’s illness was real, but did you ever fake appendicitis just to get toys and candy? Did it work? Who in your class makes you crazy jealous? Why does everything in France—even attending convent school--seem like more fun?


The Very Hungry Caterpillar--Doesn’t this book make you hungry? Especially for watermelon and cherry pie? Does anyone actually make cherry pie? Why or why not? Once the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, he doesn’t get to eat cherry pie any more. Isn’t that just so unfair? Which do you prefer—flying or eating cherry pie?


Bread and Jam for Frances —Why do grown-ups think they know everything? Like even what tastes good? Is it such a terrible thing to eat the same food everyday? Conversely, would it kill you to try something new once in a while? At the end of this book, do you admire Frances for trying spaghetti and meatballs, or does it give you a sad feeling in your tummy? In your opinion, did Frances’s parents spice up their daughter’s life, or summarily purée her independent spirit?   


Green Eggs and Ham —The main character in this book is named Sam, yet he’s always referred to as “Sam I am.” What’s with that? Do you think the narrator has that reading problem where all the words get mixed up? And why is he so pushy? Compare him to Frances’s parents. Have you ever eaten green eggs? Doesn’t that sound kind of gross? Would you eat them if you could? Do you, do you, think you should?


Where The Wild Things Are —Have you noticed how many books are about grown-ups controlling children through food? Sendak has often said that the wild things are partly based on relatives who seemed scary when he was a child. Do you have any scary relatives? Which ones? Aren’t you glad this book doesn’t include any large dogs or Mozart? Did you ever notice the similarities between this book and Harold and the Purple Crayon? Moon in the window, journey by sailboat, food. Go check it out...right now!


 The Little Engine That Could—This story shows us that if you’re motivated, you can get the job done no matter how small and insignificant you are. But if you were the Little Blue Engine and some clown asked you to carry a trainload of Brussels sprouts, prune juice, and math tests instead of apples, toys, and lollipops, do you still think you “could?”


Babar— The message of this story appears to be that clothes make the elephant. Do you agree? Were you surprised to learn that the chic department store carried a line of clothes for elephants? Babar marries his little cousin, Celeste, yet no one even lifts an eyebrow. Do you suppose that’s a French thing? Did you ever want to marry one of your cousins? In your opinion, do Babar and Celeste commit a major faux pas by not inviting the Old Lady to their wedding, or is it a smart, political move?


Curious George— Do you ever wish your dad was more like the man with the yellow hat? Did your dad ever let you smoke a pipe? How was it? Do you agree that George deserves to go to jail just for dialing the wrong number?  Because George was “always very curious,” he gets taken away from home and loses all his freedom. Do you think the same could happen to you? Imagine if this story ended with George buying a nice suit, returning to the jungle, and not inviting the man with the yellow hat to his wedding. Would that make you feel better?