This is Tony Miksak with a few Words on Books...
It’s not my birthday today, not quite yet. It’s too soon to celebrate, but no one says you can’t celebrate past birthdays.
On my birthday in 1708 James Stuart (no, not the actor) entered the Firth of Forth. Say that ten times, fast. Patrick Henry declared “Give Me Liberty” or give me something else. The Russian Tsar was stabbed, strangled and trampled to death in his bedroom on my birthday in 1801.
Also on my birthday Mr Lewis & Mr Clarke took the first short steps on the long slog home; the first Otis elevator was installed; UC Berkeley was founded in Oakland, not Berkeley; Teddy Roosevelt left (again) for an African Safari. On my birthday more recently a refinery in Texas exploded, the Mir satellite fell into the Pacific Ocean, Taiwan held its first direct elections and cold fusion was either invented or discovered, or both.
Birthdays bring to mind children. A good friend of mine complained I don’t write Words on Books about books for children. At least I haven’t done so for a long time. There is a reason for this. I know very little about books for children.
For a couple of years my 3rd grade teacher-wife invited me into her classroom to read books to 8 year-olds. Several girls would cozy up in front of me, position themsevles so I had to catch their eyes over the top of Harry Potter, and eventually they got me – I would break up into laughter. This only encouraged them, of course.
When I worked in the bookstore what I did know I learned from sales reps, and various book expositions, mothers and grandmothers, and the children themselves.
I could tell from the questions parents asked what kind of books they were seeking. And by watching which books their children chewed, tore or otherwise destroyed I could see what appealed to them, too.
Last August my granddaughter Nora was born, creating a whole new set of birthdays. She is, of course, the most intelligent, beautiful and culturally advanced child ever born, pretty much like every other granddaughter in the world.
Long before she could speak let alone focus, I pulled together a starter set of wonderful books, knowing some had pleased me as a child, and others had delighted a great number of small children. A starter set for a new reader, in other words.
Here’s what I sent to Nora:
First of all, and for all time, The Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by Garth Williams. You can’t do better than getting lost in the woods, being found by your father, and coming home to a warm tree and hot food. Plus, most editions of this book have bear fur on the outside you can touch while listening to your mother read the story to you.
It’s synthetic fur these days, of course. The original book, which I still have, sadly but beautifully featured a super smooth hank of light brown rabbit fur.
Margaret Wise Brown was in her prime when I was a young child, and I obsessed on her books. I also chose her iconic classics Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny for Nora.
Hug, written and illustrated by Jez Alborough, is an all-time lap warmer. It’s even more special and to the point – Hug? Hug?? HUG??? – in board-book format. Easy to read, easy to chew. You can’t chew an E book now, can you?
Finally, the oversized picture book Ten Little Caterpillars written by Bill Martin, Jr. with bright new illustrations by Lois Ehlert called out to me with its cheerful and life-accurate drawings. This book not only is fun, it LOOKS like fun when you pick it up.
Please share with me your own children’s books thoughts and recommendations. You could leave a comment on my blog: wordsonbooks.blogspot.com
And Happy Birthday to You!
The Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Garth Williams. HarperFestival board book version $6.99. ISBN 0060759607. “There was a little fur family, warm as toast, smaller than most, in little fur coats, and they lived in a warm wooden tree.”
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Clement Hurd. HarperFestival board book version $8.99. ISBN 0694003611.
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Clement Hurd. HarperFestival board book $8.99. ISBN 0061074292.
The first three books are available in numerous alternative formats.
Ten Little Caterpillars by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrations by Lois Ehlert. Beach Lane Books hard cover $17.99. ISBN 144243385X. Originally published in 1967, republished with bright new illustrations. Hard cover only.
Hug written and illustrated by Jez Alborough. Candlewick Press board book $6.99. ISBN 0763615765.
Also available in paperback and a Chinese-language hard cover version.