When was the last time you thought about the books you read as a child?
It occurred to me the other day just how big a role picture books and other books for children play in developing not just reading ability and comprehension, but developing personality. Of course, it’s not breaking news that children who read develop language and communication skills, bigger vocabularies, and better attention spans and memory retention. But I’m talking about how those books shape who we are today.
I’ve previously talked a little bit about the impact our experiences as children have on our adult lives. In one of my very first posts, I wrote about how my love of old-time radio drama lead me into the world of radio and voiceovers, and asked readers to think about that one ‘defining moment’ they may have had as a child that is probably responsible for where they are today.
This time around, I’d like to ask you to think about your most memorable children’s books. Not necessarily your favourite books – although you certainly can – but those books you remember reading as a child that, for some reason, you still remember today. And I’ll bet that if you look at them as a collective, you’ll see yourself in a new light.
(Imagination + compassion + attention to detail) ÷ sense of humour = Matt
Looking back at the books I remember most fondly, I can definitely see why I am the person I am. One of my favourites when I was very young was Mr. Snitzel’s Cookies, by the wonderful Jane Flory. The story is simple, but teaches a classic message of giving:
Mr. Snitzel, a baker, has only a handful of flour and a couple of raisins left in his otherwise bare cupboard – so he closes his shop for the night, wondering what he’ll do. That evening, a poor beggar comes along and asks if Mr. Snitzel could spare any food. Mr. Snitzel kindly explains the situation and says if he had anything, he’d be more than happy to help. The beggar suggests that Mr. Snitzel look in the cupboard again. To his amazement, there is, indeed, enough food to make something, which he does.
When the beggar asks if he can sleep there, Mr. Snitzel obliges, although he doesn’t have much room. (My memory is foggy, but Mr. Snitzal may actually give up his bed for the beggar) When morning comes, the beggar is gone. Mr. Snitzel goes to his shop and opens his cupboards, expecting barely nothing – and what do you know, they’re full of flour and raisins and candy and all the things that a good baker needs to make wonderful treats and be happy!
A familiar tale, told in a different way, with a golden message.
As for the bizarre iamgination…
Look no further than this absolutely mind-blowing book written by Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann & Andy. The Magical Land of Noom is part Wizard of Oz, part Alice in Wonderland, part magic mushroom ride. A large hardcover, this was a hefty book, filled with beautiful yet eerie illustrations of horses dressed like grandmothers, odd toadstool-like trees, and Mad Hatter-ish characters.
It was both intensely intriguing yet also freakishly unsettling – almost scary – in a way. Not scary as in Please-stop-the-nightmares scary, but scary in an Aliens-just-landed-and-although-I-should-run-I-just-have-to-see-what they’re-going-to-do-next! sort of way.
As for the story, I don’t recall. But I’ll never be able to get the picture of that grandma horse out of my head.
Speaking of imagination…
What better way to spark a young child’s imagination than with fantastic, strange, and ominous creatures that actually EXISTED here on earth, millions of years ago? Dinosaurs: A Little Golden Book by Jane Watson was another one of my favourite books.
I would stare at the pages over and over again, paying close attention to the colourful scales of brachiosaur, the armor of ankylosaurus, and long, sharp teeth and claws of Tyrannosaurus Rex. I probably learned how to pronounce – and spell – words like archaeopteryx and pteradactyl long before I learned the names of other animals that are actually still in existence.
I’ll tell you something else: I can’t guarantee that all these dinosaur names are correctly spelled because I didn’t bother looking them up – but I’ll bet you good money I got ’em all right. Tell me picture books don’t help develop attention to detail.
My folks, who gave me all of the books I’ve spotlighted here, knew I liked Peanuts. I still have the Snoopy coffee mug they gave me nearly 40 years ago, and both of my daughters (nearly 18 and 21) AND my 3-year-old son have all used my original red-and-white Charlie Brown knitted winter hat. Yes, it’s at least 40 years old. No, it doesn’t look like it. They made things to last, back in the good ol’ days.
Whoops, sorry. Started to sound like a grumpy old man there. I guess it’s my genes.
Anyway…this was a collection of comic strips put together in picture-book format, so it didn’t look or feel like a collection of strips. I just loved reading about Snoopy pretending to battle the Red Baron, crash landing across enemy lines and making his way back through barbed wire, stopping at a little French cottage for some vichyssoise (potato soup) with a pretty maiden, then becoming emotionally torn when he has to say goodbye…
It’s classic Snoopy. Fun stuff, and something I can definitely point to as helping to shape my appreciation for humour.
That, and the fact that my dad and I would watch Monty Python, The Goodies, and Fawlty Towers for hours on end. I’m thinking that had something to do with it, as well…but that’s another post.
What about you?
Can you think of those childhood books you loved so much? Or even the ones that might not have been favourites…but which for some reason stick in your memory? Make a list of four or five books, and spend some time looking them over and thinking about what impact they may have had on you. These books I’ve mentioned were not the only ones I loved or remember – I enjoyed Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak and others – but these are the ones that immediately come to mind as having shaped who I am today.
These are the books that spurred me to start reading the Hardy Boys mysteries, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and all the other books I fell in love with through high school and college. I see now that I am a product of not just my genetics and my environment, but of my experiences reading.
How about you? Want to learn more about your literary geneology? All it takes is a little trip down memory lane to that library in your head!
QUESTION: My first book of children’s poems contained this poem: “Little green inchworm, inchworm, inch./ You don’t bite and you don’t pinch./ Never did anybody any harm./ So take your little green walk up my arm.” Does anyone have ANY idea what this book was, who wrote it, or who published it? I used to love it – and it obviously set me on my current poetry path – but I can’t find it anywhere! >sigh<