My parents read to us every single night. They tended to pick books of interest to the older children, so the younger ones were exposed to Winnie the Pooh, Children’s Garden of Verse, Treasure Island, The Jungle Books, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, The Wind in the Willows, at an early age. On their first visit to Anne, my oldest, in the hospital the day she was born, my mom and dad bought three picture books.
My mom and dad were consummate book worms. Our local library was a tiny volunteer operation in an old church. They took us to the Hempstead Library, three miles away. We were each allowed to take out as many books as we could carry; once I managed 20. As a librarian, I am upset by parents who restrict their kids to two or three books, especially when they ask me to back them up their restrictions. I smile apologetically at the parents and tell the kid that the library limit is 25:) . My first library card seemed magical. I vividly remember my awe when I realized I now had a passport to the universe.Wherever I have been in the world, libraries are my home, my church. Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” When I am manicy, I am bombarded with synchronicity. Libraries are palaces of synchronicity.
My sister-in-law once paid me the supreme compliment: “Your idea of domesticity is putting your books in alphabetical order.” Reading always took precedence over housework. I have always found time to read at least 4 or 5 books a week. Admittedly my speed is much better than my retention. I can enjoy the same mysteries twice.
My family believes this picture of 3-year-old Carolyn, taken in 1985, is our cutest. Carolyn’s kitten-holding technique was not optimal. She assured me she could talk to animals, and I absolutely believed her. What living creature could resist her? Her sisters were in their Madonna phase. Carolyn loved to dance around with her grandma’s rosary beads around her neck, telling everyone she was a material girl.
Preschoolers can enjoy chapter books. Michelle insisted on our reading The Wind in the Willows to her three separate times when she was 4. Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books are perfect for 4’s and 5’s because she is 4 in the first one. Ramona was Carolyn’s ego ideal. Don’t stop reading to your children when they learn to read. Continue to read chapter books, books beyond their ability to read themselves. We never lose our love for being read to. Check out the thousands of books on tape and CD at your local library. If your library doesn’t have the title you want, they can usually get it from another library.
I babysat for the same family from age 11 to 18; the kids were 2 and 6 when I started. By the time I graduated from college, Marion, the oldest, could babysit her brother by herself. I always read to them. About 10 years ago, I discovered a novel written by Marion. I was thrilled, look her up, and we write to each other sporadically. I loved to imagine that all those hundreds of books I had read to Marion and her brother helped influence her to become a writer.
My oldest daughter Anne loved the Curious George books. She loved them so much that both my parents and John and I gave her the same giant Curious George for her second Christmas. She grew up to be a curious Anne. She spent her 20s and early 30s working around the world in 75 world cities, living in Kosovo, Niger, and Rwanda.I recall George wound up with his head in the toilet.
Do you ever go back and read your favorite children’s books? At any age, it is illuminating to try to find out what books you wanted read to you again and again. I remember Anne’s calling me from college, thrilled that she had made a new friend who loved the same children’s books. After my dad died, I was delighted to discover that rereading the books he read to us brought him back.
I lust for a software program that enables you to feed in all your children’s favorite books and then spits out an analysis of their character and advice on what battles are worth fighting. When asked to recommend books for children in the library, I usually talk to the kid for few minutes, figure out what daughter, brother, niece, nephew, cousin, friend she reminds me of, and recommend that child’s favorite book. This absolutely intuitive technique works well.
As a child I adored all the Oz books. I spent a great deal of time pretending I was Glinda the Good. I frequently wear a pin with red shoes, celebrating Dorothy’s magic red slippers. Nancy Drew, girl detective, was my other favorite. Starting when we were 7, my best friend and I used to walk 2 miles to discover the Nancy Drew books selling for ten cents at the Salvation Army.
My only essential plastic is my library card.