Picture Book Nostalgia

30 Jul

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I was lucky enough to have parents who read to me every night.  I only have hazy memories of the actual event–were my twin sister and I in bed, or on the couch?  Did we read just one story or many?  Did I follow along and read the words I’d memorized? It’s all a fog.  What I do hold onto, vividly, are the emotions attached to those stories.

Goodnight moon.  The Runaway Bunny.  The Velveteen Rabbit.  In our first chapter book, Pocohontas.  I remember the chapter where John Smith had put his head down on the execution block, waiting to be beheaded, and Pocohontas flung herself dramatically across his back to save him (no politically correct version for me in the 80’s.)  My mom came to the end, folded down the corner of the page, and announced it was time for bed.  Nooooo!!!!  We wailed.  Just one more chapter!  But she was immovable.

Tomorrow, she promised.  Tomorrow we’ll find out what happened.

Even now, my sister Rachel and I just have to say the words, Pat the Bunny to fall into endless recollections of how we could turn the page and rub the bunny’s fur, attached to the back page of the hard book, as we read.  Remembering these books brings back a warm fuzzy feeling, the kind of glow attached to early childhood when it seems like my only jobs were to play and learn.  Sure, if I think hard enough I can remember the dark side of being 5–the tantrums, the frustrations, the boredom.  But those feelings can’t withstand the onslaught of warm fuzzies that a book like The Very Hungry Caterpillar brings out.

I still love reading, and there are young adult and adult chapter books that I think are stupendous.  But they never have, and I suspect never will, match the emotional resonance I feel with the books of my childhood.  Maybe it’s because I was so young, or maybe it’s because when you read something 40 times, as many of us do with our favorite picture books, they cement themselves into your identity in a way a book read as an adult once, or twice, or three times, have difficulty doing.

Sometime around 3rd grade, my parents stopped reading to us at night.  I guess they decided we were old enough to read to ourselves, and they had our little brother to attend to.  It drifted off slowly, reading a few nights a week, then a few less, until it stopped.  I both accepted the change as a natural part of growing up, and felt a bit adrift without the nightly ritual.  My kids, I decided then, would be read to for much longer.  At least till 4th grade :).

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