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Monday, November 4, 2013

Two Childhoods of Favorites

Sitting in the rocking chair this weekend in what used to be our two childrens' shared room (twenty-seven or so years ago), I stared at the torn bindings and smudged covers of picture books on the closet shelf wondering if they remembered the priceless hours we spent each night rocking and reading aloud. I decided to call them both and ask them to, right then, as quickly as possible, think back on the first five or six books along a continuum that popped into their minds from childhood. I was curious as to which ones had made an impression, and why. Here is their brainstorm down memory lane.

Olivia's list:  

Babies by Gyo Fujikawa: She remembers sitting on my lap with her, then, baby brother and looking at this book together. For me, it's one of my favorite first books, filled with illustrations of babies doing what babies do. Of all the books in the basket on the floor, it's also our one-year-old grandson's first choice every time.

Chicken's Aren't the Only Ones by Ruth Heller: She says, now, it was her introduction to the world of Biology, though she didn't know it at the time. "Chickens lay the eggs you buy, the eggs you boil or fry or dye! Or leave alone so you can see what grew inside naturally."It then goes on to explain that chickens aren't the only ones. "Most snakes lay eggs, and lizards, too, and crocodiles and turtles do."  Olivia said the whole egg thing suddenly made sense. It's the book that introduced us to the ocean ray's mermaid's purse, and the Octopus's cascading strings of a hundred thousand eggs. The illustrations are colorful and timeless and must have left an impression on her since she identified a mermaid's purse at the beach this summer. She said she remembered it from this book. 

The BFG by Roald Dahl: Of all the books we ever read aloud together Olivia remembers this as the one that made us laugh the most. Dahl's whimsical use of language and insanely wonderful imagination (of which I am very envious) are really delicious to devour. We then went on to gobble up James and the Giant Peach, The Witches and any others of his the library had on its shelves.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: According to Olivia this is the first book that ever made her cry. It was her coming of age book, her first hard-hitting drama were she had to deal with the death of supporting characters Old Dan and Little Ann. She also said she remembers, for the first time, feeling the main character's life so vividly that it seemed she was living it.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamara Pierce: Actually it was The Song of the Lioness series in which Liv says she finally found, in Alanna, a strong, defiant female character who was determined to enter a world where girls weren't allowed to go. She said that growing up with a brother and 5 neighbor boys she always felt the implied boundaries, and that reading about a girl becoming a knight made her feel stronger and more capable.   

Ian's List:

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson: Ian said he remembers reading a book of poems, and that he liked them because they all seemed like really tiny stories, and that the rhyming made them comfortable. He remembered one about leaving a farm and I knew immediately that my suspicions as to which book it was were correct. The poem is Farewell to the Farm. 
The coach is at the door at last; the eager children, mounting fast. And kissing hands, in chorus sing: Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!
To house and garden, field and lawn, the meadow gates we swang upon, To pump and stable, tree and swing, Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!
And fare you well for evermore, O ladder at the hayloft door, O hayloft where the cobwebs cling, Good-bye, good-bye to everything!
Crack goes the whip, and off we go; The trees and houses smaller grow; Last, round the woody turn we swing, Good-bye, good-bye to everything!

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman: This title Ian remembered quite clearly, though I must admit that it was never one of my favorites (the confusion with the crane just took it over the top for me). Maybe the machinery component set against the sweet nature of the story made it intriguing to boys. Ian certainly never tired of it. The apparently captivating essence of this long loved story just wasn't clear to me the way it has been, and still is, to millions of others. None-the-less, it will always hold a soft spot in my heart. 

My Fun With Words Dictionary: by James Ertel: I'm not sure what it was about this two volume collection, but we all remember loving to read it together. It is a collection of illustrations and quasi definitions of words such as: "Circle--A bicycle wheel, a dime, and a ring on your finger are all circles. A circle is a line that is perfectly round." Or, "Extreme--If the weather gets so hot that you can fry hamburgers on the sidewalk, the heat is extreme. The word extreme means very, very much so." These books are simply a delightful collection of silly, though explanatory meanings to various words that you can choose at random over and over again. The latest edition appears to be 2000.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: I'm so glad that this was one of Ian's favorites. To me this is a near perfect story and it says something about his gentle nature. I so clearly remember in my own childhood two large pine trees that we spent many an afternoon in, under and around, and thinking of them as friends, so that the relationship between the boy and the tree seems an ideal conduit for this story about love, giving, and the progression of life. It would seem a shame for any child (or adult, actually) to miss the experience of this book.

Redwall: by Brian Jacques: As with Olivia's Tamara Pierce books, this series came at just the right time in Ian's life. He said it was the first time since Roald Dahl that he felt excited about a book. He had a general complacency toward reading that I hadn't been successful in eradicating. He had enjoyed being read to and was a good reader in his own right, but he wasn't a motivated reader. After a friend recommended the first Redwall book, the series took him happily through many month's of reading. It had taken just the right combination of fantasy and adventure to turn things around for him, at least for a while. 

posted by Fran McDowell

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