What books did you love as a child? Do you still have them? Do you read them to your kids now? Reading is an amazing way to connect your own childhood to your children's across time and space. Toys will age and break, but stories live on more or less unchanged - whether the original volumes we pored over as a children, or copies found at a library, bookstore or online. Some of these favorites may now be out-of-print, but that doesn't make them any less worth sharing with our children. (For tips on how to find some of the stories you loved as a child, see this introduction to the world of vintage children's books.)
When we read the old books with our kids, something very special happens. We are transported back to childhood in a direct and unselfconscious way. It is sometimes so difficult to remember what it's like to be a child in the world, but books can bring us back to that time, and so bring us closer to our children. In turn, it makes our kids think about the strange fact that, once upon a time, their parents were little too. What a concept! While reading these books, we also have a chance to notice how our kids react to them. What details do they love, which characters do they relate to? Are they responding the way we did, or differently?
The memories, feelings and connections that these old picture books evoke make it so worthwhile to ask the grandparents to find our old favorites, or at least remember their titles. That's what we did this President's Day weekend, and what fun it's been to rediscover these dear friends. Some are obscure, and some have become recognized classics. We do revere the children's classics, but a personal connection over time makes them many times more meaningful.
Among the loads of books my children and I found this weekend, we are entranced with the beloved British author Shirley Hughes' David and Dog (the American edition is called "Dogger"), about a little boy who loses his favorite toy and whose big sister helps him get it back. This story makes the big sister in our household unaccountably proud of herself, and seeing her reaction, I'm sure that's part of why I loved the book too. We also immersing ourselves in our mutual fondness for cats with Bernard Waber's now obscure but wonderful Rich Cat, Poor Cat (a stark introduction to economics as well as felines) and the also out-of-print I Wish, I Wish by Lisl Weil (cats and paintings in Florence - so lovely!). And it's so delightful to see that these 21st century kids of mine are just as fascinated, amused, repulsed by and drawn to Shel Silverstein's bizarre vision in Where the Sidewalk Ends as I was decades ago.
A few more books we rescued from dusty shelves and can't wait to delve into include D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, Jill Krementz's A Very Young Dancer (how can this possibly be out-of-print?), and E.B. White's Stuart Little.
So many treasures! What books from your youth do you share with your kids?
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