Our Reading Lives

Just a Favorite Children’s Series: An Ode to Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter Books

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My mom has this classic picture of my brothers and I reading when we were little. We’re gathered around our towering old bookshelf and sitting on top of an avalanche of children’s books. For the life of me though, I can’t remember many of the book titles. I have vague recollections of a book about a grumpy girl who stood in a flower pot and turned into a sunflower. I also remember a story about a flying bug who stole a tiny elf princess, and a little elf knight who set out to rescue her. (Anybody out there recognize those books?) I’ll never forget my fondness for Where’s Waldo, but I wish I remembered more of the children’s books I cherished while growing up. And yet, when it comes to Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books, they have miraculously stood the test of time for me.

Somehow, that silly Little Critter nestled into my longterm memories. Now that I’m an adult and a toddler parent, I’ve come to appreciate how Mercer Mayer authentically captures the child’s voice in his stories.

Just Shopping With Mom Book Cover

In an attempt to share that Little Critter nostalgia with my son, I began checking out one Little Critter book each time we went to the library. We started with Just Shopping With Mom, and that dear reader, is when the magic happened. While reading, I found that not only was my little guy bursting out with laughter, but I was too.

As the book unfolds, Little Critter goes grocery shopping with his Mom, Little Sister, and Baby sibling, and honestly, all chaos breaks loose. Between Little Sister crying for candy and escaping the group and running back to the candy section (more than once) and all sorts of other shenanigans, Mercer Mayer captures the reality of grocery shopping with children. It’s not usually easy, and it’s not usually fun, especially when you have a hangry toddler.

By the end of the story, the whole Critter family goes out for ice cream as a reward for finishing (surviving) shopping. Mayer does a nice job of exploring the relatable woes of childhood, while always ending books on a sweet note.

Just a Little Background on Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter Books

I Was So Mad Book Cover

If you’re not familiar with Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books, I highly recommend them! The stories follow the everyday adventures of Little Critter, from days spent with Grandma or Grandpa, to childhood moments like visiting the dentist for the first time or making a school project. And yes, Little Critter does have a cavity during his dentist trip, which makes for good toothbrushing motivation with my son.

A list of all of the Little Critter books (and there are many) can be found on Mayer’s website. If you’re looking for a nice sampling of some of the classics, my son and I have the Just A Little Critter Collection, which includes Just For You, When I Get Bigger, I Was So Mad, All By Myself, Just Go to Bed, Just a Mess, and I Just Forgot. Aren’t those titles just perfect?

The Power of an Authentic Child’s Voice in the Little Critter Books

In the author bio on his website, Mercer Mayer writes, “Most of my books are about things that happened to me when I was a little kid. Now I’m a big kid and I write about things that happen now, especially with my own children and grandchildren. They always remind me of what it is like to be little.”

What I love most about Mayer’s Little Critter series is that he has perfected the feeling of what “it is like to be little.” He has accomplished something not all children’s authors can; he has effectively written the child’s voice as an adult author. He places readers into the thoughts and feelings of children. My son’s pure delight in the stories is a testament to that.

Just a Mess Book Cover

Too often, I come across children’s books with lengthy or clunky narration, and my son’s attention span gets lost. In contrast, Mayer’s genuine child’s perspective makes it a more humorous and fun reading experience for my son and I. He creates relatable moments for both of us too. While my son relates to the common woes of childhood, I commiserate with the messy, silly, and frazzling realities of everyday life parenting a child.

Parents, just like children, make up a significant audience for children’s books. Children’s book authors truly work their magic when their books can appeal to both children and their adult caregivers.

A Smattering of My Favorite Little Critter Quotes

To give you a better picture of just how on-point Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books are with the lived experience of children and their caregivers, I’ve included some of my favorite quotes below. Each resonates with me in different ways, and I can’t help but smile when I read them.

“I ate my sandwich just for you, but not my crusts.” Just For You

My son is three, and yes this is still the reality of all of his toast and sandwiches.

“Or I’ll stay up to see the end of the late movie. Even if I get sleepy, I won’t go to bed.” —When I Get Bigger

I love how Mayer captures how it’s the little moments, like staying up for a late movie, that can mean the world to kids.

“Mom said, “Why don’t you play on the slide?” I didn’t want to do that, either. I was too mad.” —I Was So Mad

Hey, everyone gets mad sometimes, Little Critter included. Through this book, Mercer Mayer validates those feelings and gets a laugh out of us too.

“I can put myself to bed…but I can’t go to sleep without a story.” —All By Myself

All By Myself inspires my son to try new things by himself, just like Little Critter. No matter how tired I’m feeling, this quote reminds me how important bedtime stories are.

“But I’m a race car driver and I just speed away.” —Just Go to Bed

As Daddy Critter makes various attempts to put Little Critter to bed, Little Critter finds creative ways to escape. Since getting my son to bed has grown to an hour+ process of potty, books, teeth, songs, water cup, and gathering the army of stuffed animals, this book is too good.

“The rest of the mess could fit under my bed, so I put it there. Then I made the bed. Won’t Mom be pleased.” —Just a Mess

At some point during the day, every toy will be taken out of its spot and strewn along the floor, making our house resemble the layers of the rainforest.

“Sometimes I remember, and sometimes I just forget.” —I Just Forgot

Me too, Little Critter.

“I know it’s time for bed. I didn’t forget. Of course I’ll remember to pick up my toys when I’m finished playing with them…I guess I did forget to pick up my toys.” —I Just Forgot

That part always gets a hearty chuckle out of my son.

A Few Final Thoughts, Just For You…

Both as a kid and now as an adult, the Little Critter books squeeze my heart. Each one touches upon my son’s sweet, mischievous, and lovable toddler nature. On top of that, they also remind me of how I used to act as a kid. Mayer has crafted a book series that appeals to both children and adults.

Just For You Book Cover

These books not only make my son and I laugh, but they also place me in my child’s shoes. When I read these books, I gain empathy, understanding, and a little extra dose of patience for challenging behaviors. Mayer’s Little Critter books reinforce the idea that common child behaviors that may feel vexing to a parent are truly kids just being kids.

When my son saw me writing this post and noticed the Little Critter book pictures, he said, “It’s Little Critter!” He then began naming the title of each book cover. These books have always been special to me, and now, they’re special to him too.

If you’re interested in reading more about the children’s books that had significant impacts on fellow Rioters, you might want to read The Lasting Power of Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Revisiting The Worst Witch. So long, Little Critters!