Ted has been working long days on a film project for the last month or so, and yesterday was one of those days that I was single-momming it. I have such deep respect for my single-parent friends. It wears me out. I just deleted a long run-down of my day yesterday because no one really wants to hear it. It was busy. I had Abe by myself from wake-up to lay-down. When faced with the choice: blog or 30 Rock, I chose the latter.
Today I got a chance to sleep in, and Ted has agreed to be "on," so we took a trip this morning to a bookstore where Abe likes to play with the trains. Our local neighborhood newspaper had an article recently about favorite children's books, and one by Beverly Cleary was mentioned: Socks. It was published the year I was born, and I had a copy that I wore out from multiple readings and then lost, the way we toss aside relics of our childhood that we have no idea we'll want one day.
At the bookstore this morning, I tracked down a copy of Socks, but all the illustrations and cover art were different, updated versions. Boo. I want the original version, the one with the simple pen and ink drawings. As I was lamenting the loss of the illustrations I loved, I opened the book and stuck my nose right in the crease between the pages. I breathed in. Memories, memories, memories came to mind, of hours spent in my backyard treehouse reading, of the library at my elementary school, of the Troll Bookclub catalog.
Ah...the Troll Bookclub catalog. Anyone else remember this? Once a month, our teacher would send us home with a flimsy four page catalog, more like a flier really, of books we could order from Troll. They were all super cheap. My grandparents always gave my sister and me $1 for every A and 50 cents for every B on our report cards each nine weeks, and I'd usually use this money to buy from Troll. I could actually get quite a lot with a few dollars.
The funny thing is that I never really wanted any of the "classics." In fact, we had a relative who always gave us books at Christmas, and I hardly ever read them. They were books from the Little House series, and Frances Hodge Burnett books, etc. I could somehow tell that they were books I was supposed to read, so of course, I never did. Instead, I bought from Troll cheap paperback books that have definitely not stood the test of time. What did it matter to me? If it was about a cat or even remotely spooky, I'd read it.
In the post a few days ago where I asked for suggestions for topics, someone asked a really good question: Which books should all children have in their libraries? I thought about it and realized that I can't answer. It just depends on the child. Every child should have in his or her library exactly whatever they are drawn to, whether it's the Little House series or those awful Goosebumps books. Let them read what they want. My mom did, and even though I probably read a whole lot of fluff, along the way, I did find books like Socks, books that have stood the test of time, books that I remember.
Even though I somehow missed reading the Narnia series growing up (my second grade teacher did read the first one to us out loud), a friend introduced me to them in the 8th grade, and I, of course, loved them all (well, except for The Horse and His Boy which was just sort of...eh). I really believe that because my parents let me read whatever I wanted, by the time I got older and was introduced to "good" literature, my imagination was ready for it. I soaked it all up, so much so that my friend who introduced me to Narnia and I would go track down longer versions of things we'd only read excerpts of in our high school literature classes (like Essays in Idleness by Kenko) and I spent a good chunk of my graduation money on paperback copies of classics.
I eventually got a degree in English, which didn't happen because someone read me the "classics" as a child or bought them to go in my library. I grew up to love literature because I was given the freedom to read what I wanted, to experience the anticipation of the new Troll catalog and the joy of the day my teacher handed me my stack of cheap paperbacks, none of which I still own.
It doesn't matter though. I remember the smell of a brand-new book, especially the smell of a cheap paperback. That never changes. The only "must haves" for our kids' library simply may simply be: plenty of shelves, a library card, and noses for sniffing between the pages.
(in reference to the title of this post, anyone read A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak? So wonderful, amazing illustrations, clever, smart, funny: love this book. Highly recommended)