Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Books Worth Reading - to Your Children

I read a neat little book to Brennan last night that she absolutely adores. It was my husband's favorite book as a child as well. In fact, I don't know a child that hasn't loved it once it was read to them. I decided that I should share this lovely book with you all, which prompted me to think of a couple of others that are worth a read. I hope reading is as big a part of your day as it is ours. We all love to read around here, and enjoy a variety of genres. I was so relieved to discover that LB loves reading as much as we do. Not only does she love to be read to, but she also enjoys "reading" to herself. She'll sit for ages flipping through books and narrating them to herself or whatever stuffed animal or doll happens to be around.

This all just reminded me of a conversation I had while teaching an intercession enrichment course at an elementary school in Alexandria, VA a couple of years ago. The class was called "Book Cooks" and was open to kindergarten and first grade students (If you didn't know it by now, you should have just come to the realization that I am insane.). We read a few books, completed a lesson or craft relating to the books and then "cooked" a recipe that followed the theme of the stories. For instance, we read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and then made butterflies from celery, cream cheese, pretzels and licorice. This class was so much fun for me because it encompassed quite a few of my favorite things. We cooked, read, crafted and even learned a bit along the way. Anyway, while it was all so much fun, there were days when they sped through the activities and we ended up just reading a few more books to finish out the morning. I was feeling a little guilty about it, like I was cheating them out of an education or something (I know, this is not something that normal people would be concerned about. I mean, we were reading.). One of the reading specialists at the school stopped by after a class to ask how things were going, and I shared my concerns. Of course, she almost laughed at me! She gave me a mini-lecture about the importance of reading to children, about the impact on their intellectual, social and emotional development, and about how most of these kids weren't read to at home. Of course, I knew all of this, but needed to hear it from someone else. I'm stubborn and deluded like that. Anyway, I suddenly felt wonderful about all of the reading we were doing and felt like I was on some sort of mission. That's still how I feel about books. If you haven't read to a child today or read something yourself that really satisfies you, please go read right now (well, after you finish reading this blog post!).

"Donkey-donkey" (copyright 1940) by Roger Duvoisin is the book I referenced above. No, Tim isn't so old that he was a child when this book was written. It just happened to be around when he was growing up. Perhaps it was his grandmother's. I'll have to ask his mom. Anyway, the picture shown here isn't the original vintage cover, but you get the point. The book is about a donkey that becomes jealous of a horse's small ears and, relying on the advice of various barnyard friends, tries "wearing" his ears differently. Each time he makes a change, something happens to make him reconsider. By the end of the book he has realized that he is beautiful just as he is and has come to accept his large ears (yes, it really was written in 1940). The book has adorable illustrations, although my niece became obsessed with some drops of blood on one page (Donkey-donkey snags his ear on a nail.). The book is witty and just as entertaining for adults as it is for children. Some of it is just off the hook. Here's a sample of my favorite: "Donkey-donkey agreed that he did look dainty. Naomi, the hen, said the mirror flattered him. But she had a bad disposition and of course she would say that. So Donkey-donkey went away again, happy although somewhat doubtful, as you can see by his expression" (Duvoisin 22-23). How funny is that? The book is chock full of such priceless narration. The only criticism I have of the book is its treatment of pigs. A sow in the story gives advice to Donkey-donkey, but is described as having a slow mind, as, according to the author, all pigs do. Of course, pigs are actually quite intelligent. They generally rank fourth in intelligence lists, coming just behind dolphins and before dogs or horses. I have, however, decided to forgive Mr. Duvoisin for this error in judgement as he wrote the book in a time when the intelligence of pigs was likely not as fully explored as it is today. This book is available on powellsbooks.com, as well as amazon.com. However, please first check your local used bookstore or public library.

Tim and I found "Goodnight Opus" by Berkeley Breathed (copyright 1993) on a bargain table (75% off) at WordsWorth Booksellers in 1999 while living in Atlanta, Georgia. Did we ever get a deal. This has become a favorite around here. As with Donkey-donkey, it entertains us as much as it does LB. It's basically a parody of "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown, a mainstay of the bedtime routines of many children. Opus gets into his pink bunny jammies and is read a story by his grandmother who tells him not to "depart from the text." Soon enough, she falls asleep and is placed under a pile of cucumbers in the cellar while Opus, the monster under his bed and Opus' pillow go on an adventure that doesn't come anywhere near staying within the text. It is fanciful, articulate and smart, just as Berke Breathed always is. And how ironic is it that Breathed ended the Opus series with an illustration of Opus sleeping in "Goodnight Moon?"

The final book I'd like to mention in this post is one from my childhood. Several months ago I was visiting my grandparents with LB, and my grandmother pulled out some books from my childhood to entertain her. I hadn't thought about any of these books in years and years. It was surreal. When she saw I was excited, my grandmother offered them all to me. I took a few, but left some for my siblings and cousins. One of the ones that I kept is "What Lily Goose Found" by Annabelle Sumera (copyright 1977). It's a simple, beautifully illustrated book about a goose's attempts to find something special for her friends. I remember wanting to read it again and again. I loved the pictures and thought Lily was so sweet. This book now resides on my book shelf in the upstairs hallway. If you'd like a copy, check out Gopherella's vintage shop on etsy. She allowed me to use her image of the book's cover for this post. Mine is somewhat damaged, both by time and the love of at least six children. By the way, did you see the price on the cover of the book?

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