Tuesday, November 06, 2007

it's magic to me, anyway

It would be effortless for this blog experiment here to quickly become a place to write about children's books. I'm writing here in the first place because I need the new perspective, a reason to write more than just what I ate for breakfast or how grumpy I am about moving too many times in the last several years (seven times!) and how hard that's been and well, you know, so what? Everybody has hard stuff and everybody has beautiful stuff and I'm here to remember that. Books happen to be one of the consistent, important and good things in my life. I have lots of other things I can (and will!) write about, too, but should I find myself stumped for creative inspiration, I can always default to describing old favorites or special book thrift scores or books I love to read aloud. It doesn't concern me even a little that maybe those subjects are less readable than others might be. I'm writing all of this for myself anyway. But yesterday I did mention that we have a whole lot of kid books so I thought today deserved a whole entry about some favorites.

Before my daughter was born, before I knew who she would be and I hadn't yet met myself as a mother, before I really had a clue about anything, so much, I did hope that I'd have a kid who liked books. I'm still not sure if a love of reading is completely instinctual or dependent on being surrounded by books and other people who love books, but I think it sure helps to just have a lot of them hanging around the house and to read a lot. So I started gathering board books. And when she was tiny I started reading to her. A lot. And right from the start, reading just became what we do. I admit to not having the sort of natural patience helpful for tackling the challenge of motherhood, so I've always depended on, in those stressful, hair-pulling moments, gathering up a pile of picture books and just reading, reading, reading. I enjoy reading aloud, I can sink into the book and let my brain coast on auto pilot, the voices and story of the book falling out of my mouth like magic. And now, even though Freya is an insatiable reader, I still read aloud to her often. If her interest in listening has slightly waned, her brother, nearly seven years younger, has picked up the slack. I am very glad for it.

Most of our books have been purchased secondhand. I remember having my chatty toddler on my hip in the sling one bright early summer Saturday morning in northeast Portland. We were at a yard sale, as was our little family's Saturday ritual of that time (such a sweet time, that.) and a very nice woman handed me a copy of The Maggie B by Irene Haas and said I needed that book for my little girl. I think I paid a dime for a story which integrated itself, right from the very first day, into part of our family lore and, certainly, a hulking presence in my daughter's evolving psyche.


It's a charming book with beautiful illustrations. At the time I was especially interested in acquiring picture books with strong female protagonists. And if I had a tiny secret hope that my own precocious toddler might grow up to be as sweet and industrious as Margaret Barnstable, I had no idea of knowing how much they'd eventually have in common. I see so much of my little (big) girl in this book's main character, from the capable hands and pleasantness right down to the much younger brother.


And because we loved that book so much, it was a great thrill to find a copy of the out-of-print The Little Moon Theater at Powell's a year or so later. The publishing world makes my head hurt a little. I can't go into any bookstore without finding, in the children's section, so much crap. Yet a book so sweet and perfect is out of print. Hmm.

the little moon theater

Shortly after our return to Oregon this past Spring, I scored a second copy at Powell's. This one, pristine with dust jacket intact, shall live on the shelf for my special satisfaction. I'm always pretty darn chuffed to find rare books (sometime I'll write about the whole series of out of prints I collect), as if it's some special skill of mine and not random luck. When someone asks me what my favorite book is, I usually answer The Little Moon Theater (or The Wind in the Willows or The Grapes of Wrath, depending) because it's just that perfect. Another plucky girl main character. More lovely illustrations. If you can get your hands on a copy, I sure recommend it.

jojo, jip and nicolette

Everything Irene Haas has made is exquisite (Summertime Song probably a decade ago and Bess and Bella much more recently), but those first two are something extra special.

The really special part is the way books become a part of you. The way my daughter already has those warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia about certain books. The way they remind me that I might screw up a lot of stuff, but I must be doing something right.

re-reading this a little later, i must edit now to apologize for having used, without any intended sarcasm, the term 'evolving psyche'. maybe beer + blog not always the best combination. that's my best excuse.


Lisa said...

What a beautiful expression of the profound impact reading and books can have. We are huge readers here; well, the girls and I are anyway. I have been a voracious reader since I learned to read and Maddy is following in my footsteps. I started reading to her regularly when she was a baby. We have always been kind of broke, so a book budget hasn't ever really been there for us to build up our own personal collection, but since I don't (with few exceptions) like to read the same books again, even the girls' books, regular library excursions work out well for us. We go weekly, almost without fail. This is something constant and comforting for the girls, it is another chance for new worlds to open for them, even if it is a simple picture book. I'm so glad that the girls are book lovers like me-even Juliana follows the story and pictures. Reading helped me escape to a nicer, more normal or more adventurous world, depending on the book, when I was growing up.

Strangely, I don't think we have read any books by Irene Haas. I will have to go to the library site right now and see what's available.

Lawrence is out of town, so I have some time late night time on my hands.

Thornsoaper said...

I have a multi-faceted problem with books over here, particularly childrens books. My daughter's german is much stronger than her english, so I try to have as many english books around as possible to read with her. Getting a hold of the books is difficult. Libraries and secong hand stores rarely have english books for kids and if they do its a piss poor selection. I have a little book budget and order books from amazon on a regular basis, but posts like this are such an awesome way to find out that yes, this is a good book, it is totally worth the money I will pay for it.
I love books and reading so much and it would be so strange for me to have kids who were indifferent to the whole thing.

sj said...

if you'd ever be willing to compile a book list for me i'd be much obliged.

books were not a big part of my childhood...we had one 2.5 foot wide bookshelf with children's books only on the bottom shelf...i would pour over the books we had again and again, always with a thirst for more.

we didn't have a library in our small town....the book mobile would come every other week, but my mom thought it was too dirty/germy so she wouldn't take us...(sometimes i'd sneak in with my friend and check out books on her card, but keep them at her house).

i have tried to change that for my children and tried to read to them a lot, visit the library OFTEN, and provide books books books....so any and all nudges in a good book/series direction is a terrific nudge! (please)

Jeanne said...

Rare to run across someone who has moved as frequently as I these last several years (and I've gotten pretty grumpy about it too;-).

I found you via Wordy Diva, a RL friend...