My grandson Calder just turned one, so I'm already planning out his reading. He loves his board books, but I've been going through all the old books we have around the house, leftover from our two kids, preparing a program of great books for this obviously-very-smart little boy.
My mother was a kindergarten teacher for more than thirty-five years, so we had an enormous trove of children's books for our kids. And we added to that, mightily.
Here are some of the books I'm going to love reading to Calder –
THE REAL MOTHER GOOSE
I'm a huge fan of Mother Goose rhymes. Rap for toddlers, minus the beat.
Little kids love rhymes, and rhymes are fun to read aloud. "Sing-song" is a good way to read and build the love of language in a child. There is a 1916 Rand McNally edition of Mother Goose that hasn't been improved upon. In fact, its old-fashioned look helps connect to the warm, eternal "reading to a child" feeling that a Mother Goose rhyme engenders.
Mother Goose rhymes also describe a long-lost time in human history, a time of shepherds and markets and breeches and kings and tuffets. I want Calder to have some sense of all the time that's come before him.
RICHARD SCARRY'S BEST WORD BOOK EVER
My kids loved Richard Scarry's books, and they aren't the only ones. Scarry wrote more than 300 books, selling more than 100 million copies worldwide. Scarry's greatest creation is probably "Busytown," a complete world of anthropomorphic animals that makes our complex world easier for little readers to understand. Scarry's books are detailed and elaborate, yet they are very friendly for little readers.
We used to play a game, looking for Scarry's character Goldbug on each page. His books help develop a child's ability to see things on a book's page ... and see things in real life. Scarry's books are teaching tools, and fun ones at that. No wonder he sold so many books.
Richard Scarry's Best Busy People Video Ever!
MADELINE by Ludwig Bemelmans
"In an old house in Paris, covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines."
I know those lines from memory, and I'll never forget them. My mother read MADELINE to me when I was a child, so there's something extra special about reading to your kids the books that were once read to you. It's a good feeling, adding another link to a generational chain of literacy and love of literature.
I read the Madeline books – and not just the first one but also MADELINE'S RESCUE, MADELINE AND THE BAD HAT, and MADELINE AND THE GYPSIES – to my kids many times. There are seven Madeline books in all, but we never quite got to all of them. The books are still charming and beautiful, and it will probably be Calder's first exposure to the concept of "Paris," something the entire civilized world cherishes.
In the old days, when we used to stay at the Carlyle in New York, I'd take the kids into Bemelmans' Bar and show them the murals there. The murals are apparently his only art that is on public display. But we have these charming, eternally appealing books.
MADELINE – the 1952 short – an accurate rendering of the book written in 1940
GOODNIGHT, MOON by Margaret Wise Brown
Who doesn't respond to the music of GOODNIGHT, MOON? Perhaps the most beloved – and most parodied – bedtime story of our time, GOODNIGHT, MOON is almost like a prayer before sleeping. The rhythms of this book, written in 1947, are soothing to read and to hear. And Clement Hurd's simple drawings help create a little universe of nighttime peace.
Especially for fathers, bedtime reading is an intimate ritual. We don't get to breastfeed, so reading at night might be the coziest, most private time we men get with our children. I treasure those memories. And now I'll get to read to my grandson ... if he ever stops moving.
GOOD NIGHT, MOON – audio book by Susan Sarandon
GOODNIGHT, MOON – audio book
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak
I don't know if I read this one more frequently, or IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN. Both are masterpieces by a great artist. I have the three big art books about Sendak, and I read over them frequently. (I actually read my art books.) Both volumes of THE ART OF MAURICE SENDAK are essential to knowing more about this great American creator. The second volume's text by Sendak collaborator Tony Kushner is especially enjoyable and enlightening.
I love learning about the evolution of great works of art (which I believe WHERE THE WILD THINGS most certainly is.) It's fascinating to know that this book started out as "Where the Wild Horses Are," but Sendak felt that he really couldn't draw horses well. He tried different animals. Only when he lit on "things" did the book's concept gel. He used images of his detested Brooklyn relatives as models for some of the most repellent Wild Things. (Is this how Calder sees us? I hope not.)
IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN has full-color drawings on every page (and an inspired Oliver Hardy as the three chefs), but WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE has a better rhythm in its text. My son, Calder's Father, was like a little Max, intrepid yet basically a homebody, so WILD THINGS was the perfect book for him.
At his best, Sendak taps into the deepest recesses of childhood, its greatest fears and greatest joys. He understood that "from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things."
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE – audio book
I expect that Calder will read all these books to his kids when he's a father, someday in the distant future.
Maybe I'll be there, maybe not.