Mercer Mayer's Little Critter books:
Like a security blanket for your young child

facing pages from Just for You

Little Critter series review by Steve Barancik

Series Title: Little Critters

Author/Illustrator: Mercer Mayer

Book Type: picture book

I would prescribe this book for this kind of child: toddlers, or a slightly older child in need of a quick dose of comfort

I think this book is a: book that's only appropriate for the particular prescribed audience.

I discovered Mercer Mayer's Little Critters series too late for them to be of much use to my daughter.

She was too secure, bonded and old (5) for the Mayer books to be of real value once a friend recommended them. She no longer needs a security blanket. And make no mistake, that's what Mercer Mayer's Little Critters books are, at least the ones I bought.

Of course, younger children can need a security blanket, and for that purpose these books are dynamite.

"Little Critter" is the repeating character in each of these sweetly illustrated picture books. He looks to be about three and a bear of sorts. His squat little proportions render him almost as cute as your own child.

No matter what Little Critter does... can bet his mommy and daddy are still going to love him. That's why I describe these books as security blankets. Their one overriding message is of unconditional parental love.

The other message, at least in the two Mercer Mayer titles I've read, is that a child can never do any real damage. Little Critter lives in a home where pretty much the worst consequence of toddler misbehavior - breaking a dish, tramping in mud - is a mild look of disapproval or a pictorial scolding.

The pictures are detailed and lovingly rendered. For visual interest, there are usually tiny creatures that repeat on each page - mouse, a spider, a grasshopper. These are books your small child could enjoy looking at even without being read to.

What they shouldn't be mistaken for, though...

...are storybooks. You see, these aren't really stories, and that's why I consider them appropriate only for the youngest children. Older children will be - and should be - bored silly!

A story, of course, has highs and lows. It has a hero who runs into trouble and then, hopefully, gets himself or herself out of it.

Mercer Mayer's books, on the other hand, are about repetition. Little Critter keeps doing the same kind of thing over and over to pretty much the same benign result.

I Just Forgot, one of Mayer's most popular, features Critter forgetting:

  • to make his bed
  • to put the milk away
  • to bring his lunchbox
  • to wear his boots
  • to turn off the water

Does Little Critter learn not to forget? No, he learns that forgetting is never going to cost him his mommy's love.

So for kids past preschool...

...the only purpose I can see for Mercer Mayer's books is, say, after a rough day, or after a contentious exchange between parent and child. A Mercer Mayer book read with your child on your lap can go a long way toward saying, "I'm sorry I snapped at you."

The thought of reading these books in any situation other than that, though, gives me (as a writer and a parent) the heebie-jeebies. By the time your child reaches age four or so, (s)he is more than ready for reading material that provides something beyond comfort - or at least something in addition to comfort.

Sure, it feels good holding your child on your lap and conveying the message that everything will always be okay.

But your children need to grow up, and there's nothing better than books to give them a taste of different people, different situations and different human reactions.

In fact, one of the most important reasons for fiction is to allow us (and our children) to experience certain things without having to live them! (When living them could, for instance, be dangerous.)

So let's hear it for Mercer Mayer and the comforting Little Critter series...and then let's grow our kids out of it as soon as we can manage.

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