I’ll confess, we have the whole collection of this series (click here to see on Amazon), including the colouring book. The original You Choose and the You Choose in Space are massive favourites in our house – I think we must have read it every week for the last 3 or 4 years at least twice. I have another confession – sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it.
Why I love it – aside from my kids love the cheerful bright pictures, simplistic snapshots of different lifestyles or items they could eat/buy/wear/travel in etc – is because it’s a window into my child’s day. If L has had a bad day he picks the dull, less exciting activities, the boring clothes (that’s how he feels), the ‘dreamer’ jobs (that’s what he wants, escapism). If R is feeling like talking about things she picks the most extravagant, bold and colourful pictures or friends and family. She invites me into her world when I ask the simple question of ‘Why?’ Sometimes the answers are simplistic – colour association with a mood she feels, or a desire to escape or aspire to be a princess or an astronaut driving the space ship (You Choose in Space). All of these are kind of obvious psychology, however, not all books encourage you to use this open question technique to share with your child.
The basic premise of the book is to allow children to make choices, decisions about their desires. On the one hand it’s a wonderfully simplistic idea – imagine going into a shop and choosing whatever you want with without consequence or having to pay for it? Some children I’m sure opt for the same picture choices time and time again. I know R had very definite choices for the first six months of reading it (I think she was about 3 years old at the time) – pretty much revolving around pink, princesses and fanciness as a little girls is wont to do. However as time has gone on, her imagination has stretched to consider other possibilities she could explore in her mind. At the age of 5 she was able to articulate why this might be an interesting choice, her responses to open questions became more qualified.
The book works on many levels – from encouraging decision making to what might be appropriate to wear for certain situations or jobs. My view is that it works best though as a conversation starter – by encouraging them to examine why they are making these choices; this also reinforces a teaching strategy I have noted primary school teachers using to encourage making positive choices in their behaviour and education. Through conversation initiated by the questions asked in each page, we as parents can better understand them, guide them, inform them about aspects of the world which they might not otherwise have reason to investigate.
Now, the downside, or is it? Sometimes by children (especially L, aged 8) don’t want to talk. Sometimes, they just want to hear what you choose and copy it for safety. In itself, this is a mind-window, and can lead to side conversations about what else might be going on which has made them upset/moody/uncommunicative. Sometimes, the very act of choosing in itself is just too much – they are overwhelmed by the choices they have been making through the day and this is just another one. It’s a downside if you wanted to start a insightful ‘how was your day but I can’t ask that because I’ll just get a monosyllabic answer‘ conversation, but equally their response (or lack thereof) to it invites a different conversation. So the book can serve its purpose either way, if that is what you wanted to begin with.
In my attempts to review books from the viewpoint of if they inspire creativity and/or critical thinking, this one is probably one of the best examples. The critical thinking comes from your prompts as a parent, by asking those open questions to examine their motives, or ask for their opinion on something for example. I couldn’t say it directly has inspired them to be creative in the sense of ‘have they been inspired to go away and craft something’ however, I would say there has been an influence in role play activities as a result of the book. Since they have been exposed to (and discussion around) different jobs one might do in this fantasy world, this has led to a greater understanding of what practical skills one might need to perform a job, what it involves, and this has fed into role play with my daughter and her friends. Less so with my son, but he has always been less inclined to role play games.
The colouring book version oddly I find less satisfying because they, the children, maybe have in a sense already had to make the initial decision on colour for objects, and then in review, they decide they don’t like that colour after all but it cannot be changed. Something about a printed version, the images are set, defined, printed and cannot be changed, frees their minds. Allowing them to make that choice and for them to then see the results in the light of a different day has proved to actually mean the colouring book has been discarded and forgotten. My children, initially excited by the prospect of colouring (which they both like but frankly, are slightly careless with in terms of keeping within the lines!), quickly found the level of detail required to make a page look good was too much for them.
Why, I hear you ask, did I say I love and I hate it then, in my opening gambit? Well, frankly, sometimes I just want to read a story. Like my children, sometimes I don’t want to discuss the in’s and out’s and various merits of the clothing/hair/transport/job choice I am being asked to do. As an adult I am more aware of my mood and how that affects my choices. And sometimes, I’m just too tired to have that lengthy decision making process (even without the questions to prompt discussion which I happily do at other times), and I’d rather just put on a silly voice and read a funny story!