Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memories of reading

Over the past few years, I've been anxiously waiting for my son to develop an interest in books. Now that's he's interested, a thousand memories of books past have come rushing back to me. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of the books that I read or my parents read to me. I remember everything about them - how the pages felt on my fingertips, the worn out bindings and the due date cards inside the back covers, the artwork and the stories.

There was the story about the lion who got all dressed up for a party but no one recognized him with his fancy checked jacket and permed mane, so they wouldn't let him in. There was "Make Way for Ducklings," "Caps for Sale," and "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel," books that my father must have read to us a hundred times. There was "The Rainbow Dress and Other Tollish Tales" and "My Twin Sister Erica," an out of print collection of stories given to my family by the author who lived in the town I grew up in. And, of course, the Curious George books that I remember getting from the Stanfordville Library, the little white house with black shutters just up the hill from the town swimming hole known simply as the Rec and across the street from the bus depot where we would pick up my father some days. I remember coming home from the Rec and curling up with still-damp hair reading books until dinnertime.

I guess it's no coincidence then that one of my first jobs was in a library. When I was in college, I worked at the circulation desk of public library. My favorite patrons were the moms with kids. There was no limit to the number of books you could check out. They would literally traipse through the children's section filling a little red wagon with books on all subjects. I couldn't wait to be that mom. But this morning, I realized how hard being that mom is.

I spent a half hour combing through the library shelves looking for books that weren't about Jewish holiday celebrations, written in Spanish, or based on African folktales. After eliminating subjects (and languages) that are irrelevant or of no interest to us, it seemed nothing was left but overly imaginative drivel that would insult the intelligence of even a 3 year old and books that tried to make a story out of number and letters. There were the "stories" with more pictures than words and then actual stories with more words than a two and a half year old can sit still for. There was even a story about a child struggling to overcome OCD called "Mr. Worry."

Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned stories? You know, the ones about everyday stuff told through the eyes of a child, not through the eyes of an adult who is trying (and failing) to think like a child? Stories told by these adults often come off with obvious morality and put way too many ideas in a child's head. We end up with books about kids with OCD, ghosts and monsters under the bed and stories about bedtime, chores and such all contrived to slyly elicit good behavior from children.

At our library, there's a smattering of Syd Hoff books, but I've yet to come across "Danny and the Dinosaur" or "The Horse in Harry's Room." Curious George books are harder to come by. Mercer Mayer and Judith Viorst of the Alexander books? Forget about it. The best finds are at our local thrift shop. Usually, the books with little to no cover art, black and white pen drawings and titles like "Andrew Henry's Meadow" and "Hide and Seek Fog" are the best bet. It seems anything written before 1970 fits my ideal - back when kids played outside alone and actually found their friends there, too.

We did check out about a dozen books, among them was "If You Give a Moose a Muffin," a cleverly written and illustrated book about money (the page numbers were marked with different denominations of money) and a book about a house being built. I guess it's back to the thrift shop in search of those fifty-cent pre-1970 books. At least with those, I won't rack up library fines!

If anyone has any suggestions on books for my son that won't make this mom gag, please pass them along.


Mary Ellen said...

Many of the classics are for sale at Amazon. We bought Mike Mulligan, Alexander, Cloudy with a chance of meatballs and a few others. I think they were about $10 a book. So not too bad, really.

Sarah Steele said...

Have searched for the Caldecott Award Winners? The following list includes summaries. http://www.lib.campbell.edu/cmmc/Caldecott_Medal_Winners.html

Try also the NC Children's Book Award Nominees for the year. http://www.lib.campbell.edu/cmmc/NC_Children_s_Book_Award_Nominees_2009.html

Sarah S.

Sarah Steele said...

Well, blogspot.com cut off the links. Try this.

Link to the awards I mentioned.

I also recommend a periodical that the public library surely carries-- Booklinks. Children's book reviews are published in this source.

You're so right to stay away from the bubblegum publishing.

ellarine23 said...

We love:

"Blueberries for Sal" by Robert McCloskey

"Airport" by Byron Barton
"Machines at Work" by Byron Barton
"Airplanes" by Byron Barton--this guy isn't a literary genius, but the pictures are great and very interesting for Andrew.

"If I Were a Tree" by Dar Hosta

"Going on a Bear Hunt" by Rosen/Oxenbury

"Olivia" by Ian Falconer (also love "Olivia and the Missing Toy")

We also like the "Little Critter" book series by Mercer Mayer. Again, not up for a Caldecott or anything, but still very cute and full of detail.

"Go Dog. Go!" by P.D. Eastman (a total favorite of mine from when I was a kid)

"Kitten's First Full Moon" by Kevin Henkes

"Otto has a Birthday Party" by Todd Parr

"Harry the Dirty Dog" by Gene Zion

"Bird, Butterfly, Eel" by James Prosek

This is total overload, but we love books. Hope these give you some ideas when you go to the library.