An Ode To The Authors Who Raised Me

I can't ever remember  not being able to read; I think I was four when I picked up the skill.  And when I finally got my very own library card, you may as well have crowned me Queen and given me a million dollars.  All those books! I loved the smell, the feel, the organization of the library.  And living in a home without many books to call my own, I felt like the library was such a God-given treat to visit.

In retrospect, I wasn't a very discerning reader as a child—I pretty much read whatever I could get my hand on, be it the back of cereal boxes or my mom's medical encyclopedias. It didn't matter.  But I began thinking recently about which books and which authors really were formative for me as a young girl. I though that there MUST be some consistent element of taste there considering how particular I am today! And there was. As a young reader, I didn't know much about single, excellent works of fiction in the picture book world (and I regrettably never explored the non-fiction side of the picture book world) but I did know about authors I liked and I stuck with these authors whenever I could.  This is quite a different list from another post I want to write someday on the "books my Mama read to me" —which occupy an entirely distinct dimension of love in my heart.

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Whenever I walked into the old Fort Vancouver library (which looked nothing like their current, incredible, state-of-the-art facility), I made a beeline straight to the P section to see of there were any Bill Peet books I hadn't read yet... or any old ones I felt like revisiting. I don't know what it was about Bill Peet... but I loved everything he ever wrote.  He was my very favorite and I adored his illustrations. Some of his books rhymed—but they were so well done that it never felt contrived. That man had an imagination! It's no wonder he was one of Walt Disney's early animators.  I can't remember one particular standout of his clever books, but I do have a special soft spot for Buford The Little Bighorn and Kermit the Hermit.  

After I had a handful of Peet books, I marched straight over to Maj Lindman to see if there were any new Snip, Snap, Snurr or Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books. These were rare and my particular branch only carried a few titles at a time it seemed. When I read Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates for the first time, I couldn't think of anything more wonderful in the world than being a triplet. I had 3 sisters but no matter how hard I tried to imagine, none of them were as perfectly sweet as these girls... but that didn't stop me from pretending. 
Next, I'd push and shove my little brother out of the way to be the first one to score any Richard Scarry books. We didn't care that the stories were simplistic or not even stories at all sometimes, we just spent hours looking at Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day and picking characters to be and naming all our siblings and friends according to their characteristics... Mom was the Mother Bunny who lived in a boot and my brother always claimed Huckle as his own.

Two authors who kept me in their clutches long after I had technically outgrown them were Syd Hoff and Peggy Parish—famed authors of "readers books".  Syd Hoff had a way of making Danny and the Dinosaur and Sammy the Seal much more than just a learning to read books, but fun and comfortable adventures that made you forget they were designed with simplistic plots and easy vocabulary. Then there was the endearing and iconic housekeeper: Amelia Bedelia. I thought her language and literal foibles were hilarious even after I was already reading longer chapter books.  I use Amelia Bedelia today just to demonstrate figures of speech with my own children.  A comparable figure in children's literature is Minerva Louise, the hilarious and beautifully simplistic hen who makes other toddler books look so asinine by comparison.

Almost everyone knows about Stan and Jan Berenstain.  I don't make a point to read the Berenstain Bears to my children much now... they're just a little thin on the plot and heavy on the virtue for my personal level of tedium. (And I get allergies to books whose characters get made into cartoons or movies!) I tend to only read books that I enjoy reading also (which narrows our choices tremendously, let me tell you!)... but that's not to say these aren't good books. As a child, I fantasized living inside the world of Brother and Sister Bear in a cute little tree house.  I loved how golly-gee quaint everything was (and wondered why Mother Bear never changed her frumpy housedress?).  Since I was a serial reader, the sheer volume of Bear books really hooked me in and kept me happy for a very, very long time, especially since I read most of them numerous times.

Virginia Lee Burton has a very soft spot in my heart for the specific reason that I have never outgrown her.  She faithfully entertained me with The Little House and Katy and the Big Snow as a child and continues to win me over with all her nostalgic other tales and extraordinary machines too.  I was giddy when I found out there was a real live "MaryAnn" steam shovel parked in field in the tiny town of Chimacum, WA near me. I wish I had a picture to show you... but my kids and I were practically breathless with joy in seeing this remnant we've always loved from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

Last is an author who is responsible for my journey into chapter books.  He is the one I sought .  Today, before I start getting all up on my pedestal on what wonderful taste I had, I remember that I also read pretty much every single Babysitter's Club and PeeWee Scout book ever written also, not exactly Newberry Prize Winners. But still... Burgess was my heart-warmer through good times and bad because there was always a new animal adventure to entertain me:  When I was a kid, titles like Blacky the Crow only came in dull-covered hardbacks. But you can get that same title for only a buck with Dover's thrift editions!  And other titles can be easily collected in affordable box sets today too; I'm slowly grabbing them up for my children today—who I am proud to say also enjoy the easy, satisfying feel of these books also.
Thornton Burgess

Thank you wonderful writers for bringing up a little book-starved girl and fostering in her both a love for reading and giving her some very good friends in books when those in real life during this time were hard to find... {insert heart emoticon here}

1 comment:

  1. Loved Amelia Bedelia too and Virginia Lee Burton:)



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