I love to read; I have for as long as I can remember. I still recall, for some reason, a lazy Saturday I spent sitting in a rocking chair in our living room, eating cottage cheese and reading Edward Eager’s Half-Magic, though it occurred more than 30 (!) years ago at this point. I also vividly remember my first reading of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
Somehow, though, it’s the books from earliest childhood – the ones my mother read to me, as I was too young to read myself, that still have an incredible resonance decades later. I have long claimed The Monster at the End of this Book, a Little Golden book starring Grover of Sesame Street, as my favorite childhood book. I’m always surprised when I bring it up how many other people remember it fondly; somehow I think of it as “my” book and don’t expect other people to be attached to it the way I am, or even remember it, necessarily.
Several of my other favorites were books that my mother herself had read as a child: an Easter book called The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Dubose Heyward, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, and A is for Annabelle by Tasha Tudor. The reasons these books were and are so meaningful to me are varied and at times nebulous. I just know that I loved them when I read them and that I will love them forever.
When my niece was born, I discovered a whole new set of children’s books to love. I hadn’t, for some reason, read too much Dr. Seuss during my own childhood, but I read plenty of those books to her, favorites being The Cat in the Hat (I had about half of it memorized at one point), Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the slightly more obscure Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now? One of the great pleasures of Dr. Seuss as a reader is that they are easy books to read; the rhythm of the prose makes the words trip off one’s tongue. I discovered that there are sometimes slightly different criteria for what makes a children’s book fun when one is the reader rather than the person being read to. The ability to read it without fumbling over words is definitely one important factor.
Some others I discovered with my niece: Where the Wild Things Are and Outside Over There, both by Maurice Sendak (the former is Sendak’s most famous book, of course, but I actually prefer the latter – a dreamy, beautifully illustrated fairly tale about a girl who has to rescue her younger sibling after the baby is stolen away and a changeling left in its place), Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban (all the Frances books are terrific but I have a soft spot in my heart for this one; especially when Frances sings to herself in a small, sad voice, “What I am/is tired of jam” – awww), Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise, Gabby the Shrew by Alfa-Betty Olsen (fun, because Gabby SHOUTED almost all his lines) and Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon.
I could probably go on (and on), but I won’t. I want to ask you all what your favorite early childhood books were and are, either those you remember being read to you, or those that you read to your child. Why do you think it is that these books have such resonance for us as readers?