Bestsellers: Picture Books for Potty Training


Find the baby on the close stool! From the manuscript, “The Life of a Baby,” by A. B. ca. 1839. (Cotsen 46434).

In theory and practice, the non-fiction picture book can play an important teaching skills and competencies in a concrete way.   Picture books have been drafted into the late twentieth-century campaign to make the critical transition from messy blithe incontinence to conscious, hygienic elimination trauma-free. While it no longer seems desirable to motivate  gaining control over bodily functions by associating it with shame or guilt, the attempt to be upbeat about a semi-taboo subject can be interesting.

Japanese author-illustrator Taro Gomi took a strictly factual approach: every living thing eats, so we’re one big happy family when it comes to getting rid of the by-products.  First published as part of the “Masterpieces of the Friends of Science” series in 1977, the English-language translation rights to Minna uchi were acquired by Kane/Miller in 1993.  Gomi’s  truthful but slyly humorous approach caused a stir when Everyone Poops came out in the United States, but once the initial shock wore off, it become something of a cult classic.  Cotsen has the English- and Chinese-language translations, but not the Japanese original.


Double-page spread from Taro Gomi, Everyone Poops. Translated by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum, Brooklyn, NY: Kane/Miller, 18th printing, c1993 (Cotsen 24016).

When Israeli writer Alonah Frankel was a young mother with a son, she wrote a book to help other parents toilet-train their boys.  The first of her many children’s books in Hebrew, “Sir ha- Sirim” [The Potty of Potties] became an instant best-seller in Israel when published in 1975.   It was issued in 1980 under the title Once Upon a Potty in the United States and after that went on to find an international audience.  In the 1990s, the version for girls, audible, audio-tape, and cartoon versions have bolstered sales in the US. Written from the point of view of the mother, who has to do the dirty work, she nicely but firmly demonstrates all the steps in the process.


What’s going to happen next? Alonah Frankel, Sir ha-Sirim [The Potty of Potties], Tel Aviv: Masadah, 1984, 18th printing (Cotsen 7519).

 A friend gave Mr. Cotsen a copy of the original Hebrew-language book and his note explains something important that was lost in English translation.

7519lloydnote (2)

Note to Mr. Cotsen laid into Cotsen 7519.

But Gomi and Frankel aren’t to everyone’s taste.  Some people are more comfortable with a less clinical approach, and lots of authors and illustrators have risen to the occasion.  The most obvious ploy is to let a cute baby animal stand in for the nah-saying toddler.   Little bear Bartholomew feels pangs of distress after running out to play without going first like his George daddy bear suggested.  I refuse to believe that the choice of a bear cub alludes to the well-known and slightly rude rhetorical question meaning, “It sure do!” to cheer on discouraged parents.


From the board book version of On Your Potty! by Virginia Miller. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2000. (Cotsen 87638)

What if a writer tries to convince the unwilling party that a toilet is a perfectly designed object for the use of human beings by showing why no other animal could find it convenient?


Andrea Wayne von Konigslow, Toilet Tales, Willowdale, Ontario: Annick Press, c.1987, 5th edition 1990. Gift of Jeffrey P. Barton. (Cotsen in process 7386230).

I happen to think this is pretty funny, but it’s easy to imagine von Konigslow’s whimsical strategy backfiring with a child who believes there are monsters under his bed.  After looking at this opening, the suggestible pre-schooler might come to the sensible conclusion that there are really nasty things in the plumbing that might  surface in the toilet at any time hunting for something tender to nibble.   So why would you sit on it ever?


Alternative uses for the spurned potty chair.

One of the best-known euphemisms for the toilet seems to have inspired Tony Ross to create a toilet-training picture book that is much more imaginative than practical.  A toddler princess (crown, but no frilly dress)  who wants to get rid of her nappies puts up quite a fuss when the Queen Mummy tells her “The potty’s the place.”  But the gist of the story is how the princess’s request for her plastic throne throws the court into hysterics…


Tony Ross, I Want My Potty, London: Andersen Press, c.1986 (Cotsen 86775). I assume the “L” stands for “loo.”

Some authors would rather bring to life the comic dimensions of the battle between generations during toilet training instead of offering tips.   Littlesaurus leaves piles of poop everywhere in defiance of  his elders’ efforts to civilize him, singing an obnoxious ditty to celebrate his independence.  Finally his exasperated Daddysaurus yells he doesn’t care if Littlesaurus ever uses the potty, so the contrarian dino decides to give it a try, only to be caught in the act and given a taste of his own medicine by his beloved family…


Revenge is sweet… Colin MacNaughton, Potty Poo-Poo Wee-Wee! Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2005 (Promised gift). Would a publisher have touched this manuscript if the characters had been human beings?

In researching this post, I’ve come to the conclusion that the collection needs more specimens of this underappreciated genre of picture book to more fully document a) modern anxieties about toilet-training and b) portable potty design.


A tasteful tailpiece.

Happy Hanukkah! Some Jewish Children’s Picture Books

Seeing as the “Festival of Lights” is upon us (tonight will be the sixth night after all) we thought we might showcase some children’s books about Hanukkah. As you will see, authors and illustrators approach the story and its traditions in many different ways.

american covers

Cotsen: 7385, 11832, 43355 respectively

The first Hanukkah book, Happy Hanukah Everybody (New York: United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education, 1955), is notable as an early example of Maurice Sendak’s illustrations. Written by Rabbi Hyman Chanover and his wife Alice Chanover, this book tells the story of one family’s typical first night and Hanukkah traditions.


Spread [1-2], 7385

A very Sendakian orange lion decoration. spread [5-6], 7385


A very didactic inclusion of sheet music and transliterated lyrics for the Hanukkah berakhah (blessing). page [11], 7385


What first night of Hanukkah would be complete without a new kitten? page [22], 7385

The next book, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (New York : Holiday House, c1989) was a Caldecott winner written by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. The story centers around a wanderer named Hershel of Ostropol (based on the historical folk-hero prankster) who outsmarts a group of goblins haunting a synagogue and preventing the locals from celebrating Hanukkah.

page [3], 11832


Hershel tricks a goblin by tweaking the rules of the dreidel game spread [14-15], 11832


spread [18-19], 11832


Hershel facing down the Goblin King. page [23], 11832

The next book is . . . interesting. I chose to include it in this post because of its singular focus and peculiarities. The KvetchiT : a Hanukkah tale, was written by Larry Butchins  and illustrated by Celia Yitzchak (St. Helier, Jersey : Pitspopany, c1994). Published on the English channel island of Jersey, the story centers around the miraculous birth of a creature who feeds on kvetches (gripes and complaints). The KvetchiT has been around ever since the Maccabees complained that there wasn’t a lot of oil in the Holy Temple to light the menorah (though it miraculously burned for eight days). For better or worse, we do not have the cassette tape of the The 20 greatest kvetches ever told! indicated on the front cover of the book.


page [2], 43355


page [5], 43355


page [6], 43355


page [12], 43355


page [22], 43355


spread [25-26], 43355

The Cotsen collection boasts hundreds of books, pamphlets, toys, and games about or related to the Jewish culture and people, mostly from the 20th century. We hold over 700 titles in Hebrew and Yiddish (in Hebrew script), but many of our books related to Judaism are also in English and German.

Only one of these Hebrew language books, however, seems to be related to Hanukkah. La-sevivon (translating to the dreidel, which is actually a Yiddish word), by Salman Schneur, is a story about a silver dreidel who goes on an adventure to gather Hanukkah gelt (and in this case real gold coins) and meets a sapient goat along the way (Frankfurt am Main: Hotz’at Omonut; 1922):

front wrapper, 50019

front wrapper, 50019


page [5], 50019


Here our studious goat is distracted from studying the Chumash (book form of the Torah) by our dreidel hero. page [7], 50019

page [9], 50019

page [9], 50019

Notably, our holdings of Hanukkah books are mostly English language and published in the US. We have around twenty American books related to Hanukkah, while I could locate only one Hanukkah book in Hebrew (though it has been a very long time since I went to Hebrew school). This collections bias might reflect the importance of the holiday as a particularly Jewish-American tradition (there were simply more American books about Hanukkah for Mr. Cotsen to collect). As a seasonal companion to Christmas, and the very American culture of. . . gift giving. . . surrounding the winter holidays, Hanukkah enjoys a lot of attention in the US. But like the typical American Christmas, the holiday is mostly observed at home and with the family. Since most Jewish families don’t huddle around a fire and read Maccabees 1-2 (these books are actually non-canonical in Judaism), children’s books about Hanukkah provide a useful vehicle for transmitting the story and passing on the holiday traditions.

In locating books for this blog post I also noticed one tradition that my family shares with the Cotsen family: the tradition of giving books!

Cotsen Family Bookplate, free endpaper verso, 10320

Cotsen Family bookplate, free endpaper verso, 10320

Happy Holidays everyone!

To learn more about the book La Sevivon and the history and odyssian migration of the Hebrew language publisher Omonut, check out this blog post from the Library of Congress: From Russia With Love: Illustrated Children’s Books in Hebrew