Monday, January 11, 2010


I am a reader of books. I read fiction and autobiographies and historical fiction mostly, with an occasional non-fiction book thrown in for good measure (My current non-fiction favorites are anything written by Michael Pollan or Thomas Friedman.) When my son was growing up, our house was no different; we read many, many books to our young child. We lived in the country, in a cabin the Santa Cruz Mountains, a cabin that had no electricity and no need for curtains. Our source of heat was a wood stove, our source of lighting was propane gas. We were warm and cozy in our small cabin, with each other, and books, for entertainment. My son grew up in this environment, and I think it was a great place for a kid to grow up. He grew up catching salamanders in the creek, building Lego cities in the dirt, making outdoor cooking fires with his dad, and using his wooden chain saw to fell imaginary trees. It was a good life.

Naturally, his very favorite books were books I couldn't stand: Clifford, the Big Red Dog; any book by Richard Scary (he especially liked the very silly Mr. Frumble stories); Curious George stories; the Mr. Small series (which we read over, and over, and over again); and probably a few others. We never owned "Good Night Moon" or "Where the Wild Things Are", so they never ended up as favorites, but I'm sure Sean was exposed to them in daycare.

Sean's first non-cardboard book was given to him at age two by one of his daycare teachers, Roberta. Roberta developed a special bond with Sean, and before she left on maternity leave, never to return to that particular day care center, she gave him "The Snowman", a book with no words, only hand-painted pictures, a touching story about a boy and his snowman. It was his first real book, and he loved it. Shortly thereafter, he got "Granfa Grig had a Pig", a marvelous collection of silly poems and even sillier drawings, a large paperback whose cover is in tatters after reading it so many times, but I have kept it still. I think Sean's absolute favorite author of all time was Bill Peet, who wrote long silly stories, usually in rhyme, with amazing drawings, stories that always had some kind of moral to them, which was cleverly woven into the story. Sean would read anything by Bill Peet, and at one time, I think we had every book Bill Peet ever wrote. I have kept one or two of those books to this day. Other favorites included rambling William Steig stories, "Are You My Mother?" by P.D. Eastman and the "Frog and Toad" series.

My favorites were not necesarily Sean's favorites. I loved "Miss Rhumphius", and any book by Brian Wildsmith, who is an amazing illustrator. My favorite Wildsmith book is "The Bear and the Wagon", which has fantastic illustrations and a wonderful moral to the story. (If its not obvious by now, I love stories with a moral.) I also loved "The Eleventh Hour" by Graeme Base, with its fantastical illustrations, and powerful rhyming story. Of course, since I did most of the reading when Sean could not yet read, or read very well, my favorite books were read just as often as his favorites were.

When Sean was older, he naturally became an avid reader, and fell in love with anything written by Roald Dahl, the "My Father's Dragon" stories and "The Indian in the Cupboard" series. I'm sure there were others, others I have long since forgotten.

I know there are many new books for kids that have hit the shelves in the 25 years since Sean was a toddler. Having a fondness for children's books, I peruse the children's section of the bookstore myself from time to time. I have seen good books out there, written more recently than the books I've mentioned above. But, its heartening to know that most of the books Sean read as a child are still on the bookstore shelves, timeless stories that will enchant children for generations to come.

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