Saturday, July 24, 2010

A love affair with books

I've been thinking about books a lot lately. Maybe it's because I just spent a few days with my parents in Brooklyn. Growing up I was always surrounded by books; the love of reading, and the love of books themselves, was something that seems to have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My family is full of writers. The walls of my parents' home are lined with floor to ceiling bookcases filled with hundreds and hundreds of books. My parents are always reading something, often stopping to look up and share something interesting or funny from a book in their hands. That's my dad, to the left, reading a book to our daughter during our visit last week. One of my favorite memories of my father involves the two of us slipping through a broken chain link fence into a forgotten and overgrown garden at a nearby park where we would take our dogs for a walk. Once inside, we would sit beneath a shady tree in the tall grass and read from "Watership Down"; one chapter at a time, hour after hour it seemed. Just the two of us, as the dogs ran free, and bumblebees buzzed lazily nearby. In my memory it feels bucolic. In reality it probably wasn't, but I like the feelings it brings up. And now, when I pick up a book and touch the crisp, paper pages as I sink into a good book, I think what a difference those early years made in terms of creating a life-long lover of books, of words, and of reading. 

I think most parents know that reading to their children is a good thing to do. I recently read an article about the importance of growing up with books in which a scientific study was discussed that showed that the more books you do have, the higher level of education your children are likely to attain. The study was conducted over 20 years, in 27 countries, and surveyed more than 70,000 people. Researchers found that children who grew up in a home with more than 500 books spent 3 years longer in school than children whose parents had only a few books. Also, a child whose parents have lots of books is nearly 20-percent more likely to finish college. Just having books around you increases the chance that you will go further in school. I found that so interesting. And so simple to do. 
We read to our children all the time. There are books everywhere: in the bathrooms, in the bedrooms, in the kitchen, even in the car! I always read them the names of the author and illustrator before I begin so that they understand that books are something people create, not just things we find at the store. I love to pick books for our kids that are beautiful and beautifully made, but of course I also have "regular" books that we read to them. I sometimes read them books that are perhaps "too old" for them, and maybe they don't catch every word or understand every concept, but I know I've hit on something when they ask for it over and over; a good story is a good story. We love books that subtly teach them something about relationships or feelings or how to "be" in the world; and of course we like books that make them laugh and feel good. Books about being a twin are great, and good ones are hard to find. We have books about missing mommy or starting school, books about standing up for your friends, books about expressing yourself, books about loving the outdoors, books about girls/boys/animals even one about a "Some Thing". I never feel as though we can have too many books. 

I like buying books because I like keeping them. There is something satisfying about looking at a bookshelf filled with books you've read and loved; I like being able to go back and re-read something that touched me or moved me once before and now look at it with fresh eyes. I even picked up a habit from my father of writing my name and the year and city in which I purchased the book inside the front cover; finding a book and seeing that inscription floods me with memories. I read recently an essay in Open Letters Monthly about a man's love of books and his mourning what he calls the "literary apocalypse" brought on by the digital age of reading. One paragraph stood out for me:
"As I look over my own shelf, I see my life pass before my eyes. The memories grafted onto each volume become stirred and awakened by a glance at the spine, which presents itself to be touched, opened, and explored. Without the bookshelf’s landscape to turn to, that manifest remainder from a lifetime of reading, how would one think? What would one write?"

Even as a young girl I knew I wanted to share my love of books with my children one day; I have many, many books that I saved from my childhood and some I re-purchased and stored away in the hopes that one day my own children would love them as I did. A few months ago, our twins transitioned out of cribs and into beds; in doing this, they also moved rooms and while preparing for this I uncovered a long-forgotten box I had put away because they were too young to enjoy the books inside. I opened the box and happily showed each book to our children as I pulled them out; they were as excited as if Santa Claus had left a bunch of presents under the tree. New books! 

Although I write a blog and I read a lot of information online (and, as my husband will attest, I love my computer), for me there is nothing that takes the place of a good book held in my hands and the time, alone, to sit and read it. I hope for my children to have the same passion for books. I encourage every parent to consider the power of having real books, if for no other reason than that books bring joy to a child; and a love of reading can lead your child to a love of learning and a love of school and a love of expanding his or her world. the hopes that you may enjoy some of the books our twins love, here is a list of just some of our current favorites (in no particular order): Remember, they're just 3 1/2; so if your kids are younger, hold on to this list for later and if they're older, please share what your kids love! We'd all love to get some new book ideas!
  • "Corduroy"by Don Freeman (who could resist this book?)
  • "I Love You The Purplest"by Barbara M. Joosse (terrific for twins as it's a story where mother deftly comments and compliments two brothers on their wonderful uniqueness throughout the book).
  • "The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes" -  by Phyillis Krasilovsky (probably out of print, but I adored this book as a kid and have a copy that is completely falling apart that my kids still think is hilarious).
  • "The Little House"by Virginia Lee Burton (this was actually my mom's favorite as a child and then one of my actually still makes me tear up when the house is so sad as the city grows up around her. Lovely drawings, great story). 
  • "Sylvester and The Magic Pebble"by William Steig (at this stage I skip a bit about the absolute despair the parents feel about Sylvester missing, but I love the moral of the story which basically says when you have your family, what more could you wish for? I love the delicate watercolor illustrations too).
  • "One of Those Days" - by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Funny series of things that happen to you that just make it "one of those days"; my kids current favorites are the "Feeling Left Out Day" where a girl sits looking sad while friends play jumprope nearby and the "Say The Wrong Thing Day" where a girl says hello to a boy and he, nervously, replies "Uh...uh...marshmallow?". My son thinks that's just hilarious. In the end, the books says "Luckily, every single one of those days eventually turns into night. And every single night turns into a brand-new day"). 
  • "Little Pea", "Little Hoot", "Little Oink"a series of 3 books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (A pea who doesn't want to eat his candy because he only likes vegetables, an owl who doesn't want to stay up late, a pig who hates to be messy and wishes he could clean up his room like all his friends. A little reverse psychology anyone? Great drawings too)
  • "Goodnight Moon" - by Margaret Wise Brown (I know, everyone has this. But how could I leave it out? My kids still like it from time to time).
  • "Sugar Cookies"by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. (I know, I really like her. I like that she uses different illustrators for each set of books too so each one feels like a totally unique story. The subtitle of this one is "Sweet Little Lessons on Love" and every page uses references to cookies to describe ways to love someone: "TRUE LOVE means I like a lot of cookies, but this cookie here, this cookie is extra-special...My love for it is pure and rich and endless").
  • The "How Do Dinosaurs..." series. - by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague ("How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?", "How Do Dinosaurs Say I love You?", "How Do Dinosaurs Go To School?" etc. Great even if your kids aren't particularly into dinosaurs, terrifically detailed drawings and simple, rhyming stories about behavior).
  • "Llama Llama Misses Mama"  - by Anna Dewdney. (We got this a few months before the kids started preschool as it's about a little llama who's sad and scared at his new school but realizes it's actually fun and that mama always comes back. It really helped ease the transition a lot; our preschool even uses it in their classroom when kids are homesick. Series of 3 books that also includes "Llama Llama Red Pajama" about being scared at night and "Llama Llama Mad at Mama" about having to run errands with mommy when you'd rather be playing and getting ice cream).
  • "Pinkalicious"by Victoria Kann. (I originally bought this book because our children were obsessed with cupcakes and our son, as I wrote about previously in "When Superman Wants A Fairy Wand", was enamored of all things pink. It's a cute story about a girl who eats too many pink cupcakes and comes down with a case of "Pinkititis". I just found out it's been made into a very popular kids' musical in New York City which I can't believe I didn't know about when we were just there last week! "Pinkilicious" is my favorite of the series which also includes "Purplicious" and "Goldilicious").
  • "When Pigasso Met Mootisse" - by Nina Laden. (Clever, fictionalized version of the friendship between painters, Picasso and Matisse, depicted respectively as a pig and a bull. Terrific especially if your children are at a stage where they feel their "art" doesn't measure up to someone else's as this book makes a clear statement about two very different artists both having great value. On this same note, the lovely book "Ish"by Peter H. Reynolds makes a similar point: what you create doesn't have to look exactly like the real thing, a drawing of a tree that looks "tree-ish" is just as wonderful. I love all of Peter H. Reynold's books and illustrations).
  • "Harry The Dirty Dog"by Gene Zion. (One of my childhood favorites about a dog who hates to take a bath so he runs away and gets so dirty his family doesn't recognize him when he returns. Equally as fun are the sequels: "Harry by The Sea" and "No Roses For Harry").
  • "In The Night Kitchen" - by Maurice Sendak. (Not many people's children's book collections would be complete without at least one book of Mr. Sendak's. This one is one of his weirder ones and happens to be our son's favorite. He was so obsessed with it for a time that we had to read it multiple times each night and let him sleep with it in his bed. The illustrations are gorgeous and the somewhat nonsensical story is fun to read. For some reason "Where The Wild Things Are" isn't yet on our kids' short list, but they do love the "Nutshell Library Collection" which includes great short reads like "Pierre" and "Alligators All Around".  
  • "The Incredible Book Eating Boy" - by Oliver Jeffers. (I just love everything Oliver Jeffers puts out. His illustrations are weird and beautiful, the concepts of his stories are elegantly thought out and yet simple. This book, in particular, has a message dear to my heart: it's about a boy who eats books and loves how smart they make him, but soon realizes that he's overeating and can't digest all the information anymore, so he has to stop. After sitting sadly for a while "...Henry picked up a half eaten book from the floor. But instead of putting it in his mouth...Henry opened it up...and began to read. And it was SO good. Henry discovered that he loved to read." Our son grins from ear to ear every time I read that line).
I could go on and on but I think you get the idea: we like books. The links I posted, by the way, are all from Amazon, but I love supporting small bookstores and even independent online retailers like Chronicle Books when I can. Chronicle is a great place to find more unique books than you might find by browsing the shelves at your local Barnes and Noble. Also, Double Up Books is a great online shop that specializes in books for multiples (for adults and kids). 

So, tell me...what books meant a lot to you as a child? Do you have favorite childhood memories connected to any in particular? Which do you love sharing with your children? Post a comment and let us know...maybe you've got some great ones we've missed!

Thanks for reading (literally)!
The Twin Coach

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Jackie said...

When I was a child I LOVED a series of books by Ladybird books. Anyone who grew up in the UK in the late 60s, 70s or 80s will be very familiar with them.

They were beautifully illustrated and told the classic tales (e.g. Cinderella, Puss in Boots, Rumplestiltskin). I remember reading them again and again.

Your post inspired me to google them! Although the classic versions (with the original illustrations) don't seem to be in print anymore there are a few being sold off as "vintage" finds. So funny to think of them that way!

Steven Brogden said...

What a great post. Reading was such a key part of growing up--until I started playing video games. To add to your list, I also remember reading three great Shel Silverstein books: The Giving Tree, Where The Sidewalk Ends and A Light In The Attic.

Christina Simon said...

Wonderful post. I also grew up surrounded by books, encouraged to read all the time. Now, I really am relying on books to help me get through the discussions about body development, etc. with my daughter! Thank goodness for books of all kinds!

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