Sunday, February 3, 2013

Kids' Books: Then and Now

My mom began her career as a first-grade teacher and ended it as a children’s librarian, so it goes without saying that my entire life has been filled with wonderful classic and contemporary children’s books. I love it when my children fall in love with my childhood favorites, and I love it when they introduce me to new books that become as beloved to them as my old favorites were to me. And I find that there are a lot of interesting parallels between the books that I loved back in the day and the ones my kids love now.

The Truck Books
“Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” was already a classic when I was a child. It shows that machines like construction trucks are more than just heartless automatons. I found myself cheering for Mary Anne the steam shovel as much as for Mike Mulligan, maybe even a little more.
One of my son’s favorites is “Are You My Mother,” which features a steam shovel that looks very similar to Mary Anne, and which (along with its invisible driver), carefully returns a fallen baby bird to its nest and its mother. You can’t help but have a soft spot in your heart for steam shovels after reading this book. And you’ll never hear the word “Snort!” the same way again.
Another, more contemporary book that my son loves and that brings personalities to trucks is “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site.” It shows each different truck finishing its work for the day and tiredly tucking itself into bed. The picture of a huge crane truck gently cradling a teddy bear in its “arms” is guaranteed to soften even the hardest of hearts.
Repeated Refrains
Another favorite childhood book of mine was “The Story about Ping.” At the end of every day, Ping’s owner would call him back to the boat by chanting, “La la la LEEEIII.” I love the way my mother sang the lilting chant, and I loved chiming in with her on that refrain.
In a similar vein, my son loves “Chicka Chicka ABC” with its repeated refrains of, “…at the top of the coconut tree,” and “Chicka chicka BOOM BOOM! Will there be enough room?” And he loves to imitate the rhythm of my chanting. It’s like learning reading and music at the same time!
Richard Scarry
I had a giant treasury of Richard Scarry stories, and I loved many of them, but my favorite was always Pierre Bear. I loved how sweet Pierre was with his wife and his little boy. I loved that even though he was a bear, he was always gentle and mannerly.
My son, of course, prefers the Richard Scarry stories about cars and trucks, especially “Things That Go!” Louie’s Gooey Glue truck never fails to bring gales of laughter, as does Roger Rhino with his ill-fitting glasses.
The Hat Book
I loved pretty much every Dr. Seuss book ever written, but “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” sticks out in my mind as one of my favorites. Poor Bartholomew’s puzzled expression still makes me snort with laughter.
Both of my kids get their giggles from a completely different book about hats: “Blue Hat, Green Hat”. A silly turkey who tries wearing his shoes on his head and putting his coat on backwards is the main source of giggles in this delightful book with its refrain of, “Oops!”
Dr. Seuss
And of course, no children’s book collection would be complete without a set of Dr. Seuss books. My son can recite pretty much all of “Dr. Seuss’s ABC” plus quite a few passages from “Green Eggs and Ham” and “I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!” As could I, when I was his age.
I look forward to years from now when I can pass along my favorites and my kids’ favorites to my grandchildren. And maybe they’ll have some new classics to share with me! I just hope we’ll be turning the pages together and not just poking a touch screen. Because there’s nothing in the world that feels quite as wonderful as turning the magical pages of a beloved book.

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