Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Read me a story, please!"

So I read this depressing article in The New York Times the other day (pointed out to me by my friends, Mary and Mark), and when I told the urchins about it, it got them depressed too. The article points out that parents are increasingly pushing their very young children toward chapter books, and away from the true picture book or storybook. It seems that more and more parents feel that picture books are "too babyish" for their precocious youngsters. Some parents worry that their wee one will have fallen too far behind in that all-important push to get into college, if the sweet lad isn't reading Dickens or Shakespeare by the time he enters school.

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating about the Dickens and Shakespeare (maybe not). But I do know parents who feel that the most insipid "chapter book" will somehow be a better reading experience for their children than the most lushly illustrated and creatively written picture book. I don't get it. And even worse, soon children will only rarely know the joys of storybooks; this makes me sad.

You know these books -- the ones with few words, or sometimes no words at all. For most people I know, these are the books that evoke the truest emotional response; many of my friends can recite whole chunks of their favorite (or their kids' favorite) storybooks. Raise your hand if you can recite Goodnight, Moon -- all together, now: "In the great green room there was a telephone, and a red balloon . . . ." One of my most vivid movie memories is at the end of the Tom Clancy film Patriot Games; Harrison Ford's character has just saved the planet, but now he settles in beside his daughter's hospital bed for a truly important job -- and begins to read: "The sun did not shine; it was too wet to play . . . ." Fabulous dad -- now there's a real hero!

The urchins and I have started an ongoing conversation about the books we loved to look at when we were little; each urchin has a particular favorite, but we also have realized that there are certain picture books that have become part of our family history: we refer back to The Runaway Bunny, Quick as a Cricket, A Fish Out of Water, and the monumentally wonderful Make Way For Ducklings on a regular basis.

One little phrase from one of our favorite stories evokes layers of meaning: we remember the story; we remember the feel of the beautiful book in our hands; and the memory also evokes images of snuggling up on the sofa or sprawling on mom and dad's bed while the story is read.

We are a family of readers -- you might have guessed that by now. And in our conversations about reading we have all agreed -- the joy of picking up a book and reading it all by yourself for the very first time cannot be over-stated. And the sound of a beloved voice, reading to you as you gaze at beautiful, intricate, funny, colorful pictures, or as you drift off to sleep with those images in your head, must be what heaven will be like.

Our picture books and storybooks are the books that made us fall in love with reading. I've illustrated my musing with some of my family's favorites -- I would love to know about your favorites, too!

And ooh! While we're talking about delicious books, here's a fantastic Halloween book about a witch who is not as scary as she thinks she is -- but she sure knows how to make some wickedly delicious blueberry pancakes! After you read the book you can make the pancakes -- the recipe is included in the story.

tangent: Old Black Witch was a book I loved so much as a kid that I kept it like a precious treasure for my own children. Of course soon after I placed it on their bookshelf, my old friend of a book got chewed to shreds by our dog, Toby AKA the Hound From Hell, may he rest in peace. Thank God for Amazon-dot-com!


  1. Parental Job Description, Section 1: 1. Make sure there are lots of books around your house of all shapes and sizes, some with so many words they make your head explode, others with so many pictures they make your eyes burn. 2. Allow child to select ANY book they want. 3. Read it with them. 4. Repeat until utter exhaustion and/or life threatening joy is accomplished.

  2. This makes me sad because I am even now in the midst of packing up the storybooks from my 10 year old's room that I must concede she is too old for. I am finding it emotionally difficult to send them to the attic. There they will have to await another generation. The rewards of reading storybooks--My adult daughter called me recently after watching "The Blind Side" and thanked me for reading to her. What a precious reward!

  3. Have you been to the Green Valley Book Fair just past Harrisonburg, VA?? It is a wonderful book fair, filled with all kinds of books, but has a great children's section with the Caldecott and Newbery winners. You can pick up books for gifts or for your "grandma" closet at a really good price!

  4. "This is my house and I am the mommy. My children are Annabelle, Betsy and Bonny"- from the Golden Book "The Little Mommy" - my favorite as a girl, saved by my mom and now on Emma's bookshelf. And Blueberries for Sal! I love the picture of her and her mom in kitchen - kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk! Picture books make such an impression and sometimes words would ruin in - Where the Wild Things Are after the wild rumpus has started - the next three pages have no words - it's perfect!! THanks for the memories!!


  5. I have so many favorites from when my kids were small and from my own childhood that I would have a difficult time choosing only one. Goodnight Moon is certainly near the top of the list. Another favorite is Stellaluna. I bought an autographed copy for my son when he was little and it's still one of his most treasured possessions.

    My daughter had a set of tiny books about farm animals that she loved. They came in a box that looked like a barn.

    Thank you for prompting me to remember all of the wonderful books we loved so much!

  6. BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL! I just bought that book for my best friend who had twins last weekend. I can't wait to read them pictures books all day long!

  7. Are you kidding me??? The first four books that you posted I had (still have) when my kids were little. I loved the Frances books. And that Paul Zelinksy is a master. I read to my kids virtually every night (with very, very few exceptions) from the time the first one was born until the last one was about 7. Three years ago, I hunted down a copy of Suppose You Met a Witch, my oldest son's favorite picture book from when he was 2, and bought him a copy of it for his 21st birthday. It's been out of print for ever. I had to go to a rare-book store online. Just flipping through the pages and seeing those illustrations again was a real trip.

  8. We love a good picture book in our house, recently I borrowed a book by a national geographic photographer. Mr 3 loved it, and loved making up stories about the photos.

  9. My thoughts EXACTLY! Great minds think alike. As you can see it's what I blog about.

  10. I agree with you. Why erase the fun of sharing your kids those beautiful picture books? I am now an adult, but boy, I still love these kinds of book!

    Following your lovely blog.

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  11. Make Way For Ducklings read all huddled around my grandmother, too many cousins to really be able to see but a fine time anyway. I have too many books to properly store so they get read again on a regular basis as a child walks by and sees an old favorite. I have my eye on a Christmas book at my mother's that I can't find on Amazon. Do you think my siblings will notice when it disappears?