Before I had kids, I told myself (don’t you love it when a sentence starts that way) that I was going to read everything my kids read. I’d keep up. I’d know what they were being fed in terms of literature, and we’d have fabulous discussions about the content and what it meant to their blossoming minds. Fast forward to today, when I have a voracious eight-year-old who has legitimately been reading since he was four, a six-year-old who can read more than he lets on, a preschooler who loves being read to, and a baby who thinks books are dee-licious. That keeping up thing? Not happening. My oldest, Jacob, simply reads too much too fast. For a while, he was reading a series my husband and I weren’t too thrilled with. The stories were fine, but kind of ... fluffy. Fun, but not stretching his mind in a way another book might. He enjoyed these books, though, and had trouble understanding what we didn’t love about them. We made an analogy to food. I’m not sure it was our own invention; we may have heard it somewhere before, but if so, I can’t recall where. Anyway, we told him that this particular series was kind of like candy or chips. Not necessarily bad for you, but not great to have all the time, either. There needed to be a limit, a boundary. We decided that when he gets books from the library, one in his five selections could be from this series. The rest would have to be something else. He agreed without much argument. All this is to say that the book I’m reviewing today is less like candy and more like a five-course feast. Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals by Matthew Mehan and illustrated by John Foley is a book you need to sit down and tuck into. It looks like a picture book, but it’s more than you can take in in one sitting. Told in poems with wonderful oil paintings and letter blocks for illustrations, the story explores virtues and vices with humor and depth. It’s the most sophisticated alphabet book I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure calling it an ABC book is really fair, since there’s so much more to it, and it’s geared toward an audience older than the toddler set. M5, as the author referred to it in the podcast where my husband and I first heard about this book, is a volume that asks more of a reader that sitting back and being entertained. The book is an invitation to engage and to think more deeply, without having that thinking feel like work. There’s also an extensive glossary and a treasure hunt that encourages rereading and further discovery. This is a book a child — or better, a family — could sit with for hours, employing their minds and their hearts in the glorious way that being in conversation with good art does. As it’s put in the final poem, “Victory needs good friends and good art.” This book is just that, and I’m so grateful to have it on our family’s shelf.

What are you reading with your kids? What do you remember reading with your family growing up?

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Copyright 2019 Lindsay Schlegel