'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 19 August 2021

Guest Post: Viv Young on Picture Book Persuasion

Will a picture book help clean a toddler’s teeth? Writer, Viv Young explores the power of persuasion through picture books.

Bookstore shelves and online marketplaces are brimming with books that promise parents help with common parenting issues. Whether it’s biting, toileting or teeth cleaning, the book industry tells parents it’s got this or that issue covered. 

But will a picture book really help you clean your toddler’s teeth or get them on the potty quicker? I think the answer is probably yes, but not in the way parents expect.

From babyhood my own child didn’t want to clean teeth. After exploring a range of tooth cleaning devices and fun flavoured toothpastes and pointing out the grim reality of dental neglect (Poppa’s one blackened molar), I did my research and selected three picture books, two of which were moderately didactic.  My canny toddler sussed my teeth-cleaning agenda and selected Dr Seuss’s The Tooth Book. We read. We laughed. We did not clean teeth.

Weeks went by and my mind lingered on the prospect of having that kid with yellow, filling-filled fangs. Then one night I picked up The Great Bird Poo War by Coral Vass and Lee Wildish in one hand and the toothbrush in the other. The giggles were hearty. The objections were limited. The teeth got cleaned. Partially. Without toothpaste. It turned out my toddler loved reading picture books so much that the offer to distract him from the dreaded toothbrush with a new or favourite title could help us all get the job done without tears.

Should I have invested in issues-books about teeth cleaning? Absolutely! I didn’t realise at the time, but those toothy grins and not so well disguised facts about tooth decay were for me.  They helped me keep my calm until we could figure out what would work for our family. They gave me insights into child-friendly language that I could casually pop into conversations as we wheeled the trolley down the ‘health and beauty’ aisle at the supermarket. Eventually, they gave me bold black type to point to and read when my grumpy pre-schooler began asking ‘why?’ at every turn in every conversation.

The best discovery without a doubt was, however, that any picture book was an ‘issues’ book for my child.  Whatever ‘issue’ was causing hurt or worried feelings— tooth cleaning, fussy eating, visiting the doctor—an everyday picture book on just about any topic provided the safe, nurturing, sometimes hilarious space in which my child’s big feelings could find release and calm.

The role of picture books in strengthening parent-child connection is well established. The role of issues-books in calming parental anxiety is probably part of that complex connection, but it’s worth teasing out. Because everyone knows that keeping your cool as a parent is a big part of the job and any picture book that can help with that is worth its weight in gold.

Viv Young is a writer with a background in education and research. She reviews for www.picturebookparents.com which is a review website devoted to picture books about issues that parents may wish to discuss with their parents.