Reverb Broads 2011, December 9: What was your favorite children’s book? (courtesy of Niki at http://nikirudolph.com)
Pick a single favorite children’s book? What, are you people trying to kill me? No, I see it all now: you want me to do your holiday shopping for you…
I’m bad at the favorites game, no matter the medium. That whole “Ten CDs/Books/Movies/Games/Wombats On A Desert Island” meme is completely beyond me; in fact, the only thing I can do every time I say that, as soon as I post the list, I’m going to think of at least three I would have to change. So this is going to be more of a whirlwind tour than a deep reminiscence.
I literally can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read; I had maybe a hundred sight words by the time I was two. When they tested me for kindergarten, I was at a fourth-grade level. Pretty much anything I ever wanted to read, I just picked up and gobbled down. This doesn’t mean I didn’t love children’s literature. I did — I do.
So I’ll start in the place everyone who knows me would expect me to start: Doctor Seuss.
Yes, I spelled that correctly; please absorb that bit of knowledge and carry it forth into the world. And I know, I know you love him too. Who doesn’t? His stuff never gets old. But much like the Muppets, I just never let Dr. Seuss go as I aged. I memorized and did a dramatic recitation of Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose for Forensics in high school; I went to State on that story. And when I got to college, the first club I joined was the KU Dr. Seuss Club. I was its president my sophomore and junior years. We used to go into Lawrence’s elementary schools and read to kids, to validate our weekly meetings and impressive membership. I was even featured in a story about the club that hit the Knight-Ridder newswire (FYI: my maiden name was Perinchief).
But when I was the age when most kids are enamored of Dr. Seuss and other picture books, I was all about the nonfiction, too. I had several phonebook-sized collections of weird facts that I recited to anyone and everyone (this particular sin is being revisited upon me even as we speak). And there was a biography of Dolley Madison that I checked out almost every time I was at the library, and must have read a hundred times. My grandparents took me to the Wisconsin State Capitol when I was four, and I argued with the tour guide that Madison was obviously named for Dolley, because she saved the White House and what had her runty little lump of a husband ever done. This was not the first, nor the last, time in my life I’ve been stared at like a freakshow.
As I got older, my tastes evolved pretty quickly — I was a rabid Sherlock Holmes fan by the time I was in sixth grade — but some children’s lit still stands out in my memory. I adored The Westing Game, and I’m so happy to still see it on regular middle school reading lists. And The Phantom Tollbooth is as fresh today as it was 25 years ago; I’ve been loving all the anniversary celebrations this year. I still read A Little Princess from time to time, just to relive the delight and wonder of that story, and the movie is a little-known gem. Sure, I read my share of Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Babysitters Club, and Sweet Valley High, too. I was truly ravenous, and I could chew through one of those “age-appropriate” books in under two hours. But my parents never restricted me to the short-shelved section of the library, for which I remain grateful.
And now I have new favorites, but they’re my favorites from reading to my own kids. Books like Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs and Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton, the Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child, and the Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Schachner are a riot and a joy to read aloud. In fact, there’s a thing called the E. B. White Read-Aloud Awards that’s been going for just a few years now that makes a great place to start finding those books you’ll never get tired of reciting at bedtime. And achingly sweet books like I Love You, Little One by Nancy Tafuri, God Bless the Gargoyles by Dav Pilkey (this one is NOTHING like Captain Underpants, trust me), and Polar Bear Night by Lauren Thompson still get me choked up, especially when my sweet boys fall asleep while I’m still reading quietly at their bedsides.
I read in my kids’ classrooms every few weeks, so I’m having to expand my repertoire to find short, funny stories that fourth-graders like. The Wayside School stories by Louis Sachar have been very well-received, but I’m always looking for new suggestions.
I figure, by the time I’m done reading aloud to my kids, their kids should be just old enough for some Doctor Seuss. And they’ll know right where to find Grandma’s copies.