Thursday, February 08, 2007

Opening a box of memories

This week's box from the attic was not intentionally a memory box. But it has turned out that way.

Most of the box is full of children's books. Like the ones I mentioned last week -- the ones with the teeth marks in them -- these books bring back so many memories that I called my daughter and we reminisced. We talked about the books and the laughter and the joy of reading them over and over and over. We can recite whole passages from memory even now. It's not just the memory -- it's the memory shared.

First there was the favorite Curious George (far before his 15 minutes of movie fame. And no, I don't consciously recall naming The World's Sexiest Physicist after a curious monkey. But now that you mention it . . .). The truth is, I remember reading Curious George myself when I was small. I can still remember thinking how cool it would be to grab a whole bunch of balloons and float up and up and up (this was obviously before I developed a sensible fear of heights when hanging by balloons). I read it to all my kids, of course. I think we can safely say that they all grew up curious about the world -- and went out into it determined to grab the balloons and see it for themselves.

Then there was Pierre, Maurice Sendak's wonderful "cautionary tale." We still quote Pierre's "I don't care!" refrain to each other -- and then the assorted bits about how the lion ate Pierre, and how his parents came to see him, but found the lion instead, and when his mother asked for Pierre, the lion said, "I don't care!" and Mother shrieked, "Pierre's in there!" And Father hit him with the folding chair. I certainly hope the people who police children's literature don't ever decide that Pierre is "too violent" for our little darlings. My kids LOVED it. As did I. As does every kid I've ever read it to.

And then I stumbled across Crictor. Tomi Ungerer's tale of the snake who came to live with the little old lady in her tiny French village always made us smile. Crictor was such a wonderfully helpful snake. And he could do so many things. Spell. Count. Tie knots. Get kites out of trees. Catch burglars. A snake with a can-do attitude. A hero, I'd say. Gotta like that.

We had a book version of I Know An Old Lady. It's better known as a song -- and of course we sang it. "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly . . . Perhaps she'll die!" My boys always sang it with such relish, little ghouls. And they LOVED the ending: I know an old lady who swallowed a HORSE! She's dead, of course."

There was the wonderful tale of Stone Soup, the charming Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, the winter-time favorite, Katy and the Big Snow.

There were the marvelous Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel -- autographed to each of the boys specially, with personal drawings of frog and toad. How did they get in the attic? They're in the bedroom on the dresser by the bed, now, just waiting for their "boys" to come and claim them.

There was Corduroy, and Owl at Home, and Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel. There was Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal (a copy of which I recently bought for one of my daughters-in-law because it was her favorite children's book), and Lentil. We were very big on Robert McCloskey in our house!

And there was the wonderful, unforgettable Homer Price. Who could read Homer and ever forget the doughnut machine or the skunk called Aroma? I remember those stories from my own childhood reading. There was Ramona the Pest and Henry Huggins.

Tikki Tikki Tembo -- another "cautionary tale" about not giving your children great long names! I will remind my son of this come August when he and his wife will be naming theirs. I don't think I have to worry, though.

There were several Frances stories by Russell Hoban -- Bread and Jam for Frances, A Baby Sister for Frances, Bedtime for Frances. Wonderful books to read aloud. We can say them together like a Greek chorus even now. Many lines from the Frances books have made their way into our family lore. "Gloria liked to practice with a string bean when she could." "Frances knew what she liked and it was always good." "What is my job?" asked Frances. "Your job," said father, "is to go to sleep."

I sit here now surrounded by them, knowing I'm not going to throw any of them out (God forbid), knowing that as battered and torn and well-read and well-loved as they have been, they can be read more times, they can be loved by more children. And they will be.

I can hardly wait.

I hope Theo and Martha read lots of books to their little one. I expect they will.


Blogger Michelle Styles said...

Gosh so many memories of books I read to my children! Or read myself.. I had forgotten about Crictor...

Did you know btw there is a statue group of ducklings in Boston to Make Way for Ducklings? When we went a few years ago, we had to go on the Swan boats...and then we discovered the statues...

Books like that are truly treasures. I am glad you are keeping them!

09 February, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...


Yes, we had to go see the Swan boats in Boston, too! Such fun.

The books are only one boxful of, I fear, a great many boxes. I could do a column alone on Paddington Bear and my middle son. I could do a column on ALL my kids and How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen. Maybe I should just start writing about children's lit!

Kids miss so much when they aren't read to. And, for that matter, so do parents. Glad yours were as lucky as mine in being read to. I'm not surprised, of course!

09 February, 2007  
Blogger Jennifer Y. said...

Awww...I still have many of my childhood books as well.

But my best attic find was a box of books in my parents' attic that were my older sister's...the books were old Harlequins and Silhouettes from the '90s...among them was A Baby For Christmas by Anne McAllister! I still haven't gone through it completely to see what other treasures it contains. I am looking forward to reading through the books and see if and how the lines have changed in the last decade or so. I didn't read contemporaries until a little over a year ago so these books are all new-to-me.

09 February, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Jennifer, I'll be interested to see what you think. I don't think mine have changed a great deal in tone. I remember the Baby For Christmas fondly -- even if he did have Dr Spock pointed ears on the cover!

09 February, 2007  
Blogger Jennifer Y. said...

LOL...after that comment I had to immediately run and check the cover...I can maybe see a little bit of Dr. Spock, but it's not too bad.

09 February, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

We'll just hope the little tyke has grown into them by now, shall we? Hope you enjoy it.

09 February, 2007  

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