The Picture Books That Didn’t Get Away by Elisabeth Dahl
I ventured into our garage this morning and opened a plastic tub marked “paper keepsakes.” Inside lay souvenirs of my 14-year-old son’s earliest days: squiggly marker drawings, preschool “worksheets,” instructions from the hospital where he was born. I pushed those aside and found what I’d been looking for: about a dozen picture books. They were chilly and dry, just like the weather. I brought them inside.
The picture books I kept weren’t necessarily the bestsellers (though they may have been). They weren’t necessarily the books with the coolest graphics or the sharpest writing (though most of them have both). The books I’d kept were the ones that we’d really bonded with, for whatever reason.
Here are a few:
Owl Babies. I always think of its climactic page, where the owl mother swoops back to the babies: “AND SHE CAME. Soft and silent, she swooped through the trees to Sarah and Percy and Bill.” Martin Waddell’s writing is poetic. And Patrick Benson’s drawings capture the owl babies’ concern—and the mother’s mass and strength—so beautifully.
A Pussycat’s Christmas. I can’t tell you what this ripped page of Margaret Wise Brown’s book says anymore. But I can tell you, the page was ripped out of love and zeal. Our A Snowy Day met the same fate. Board books are practical, but they don’t often end up with such tangible markers of enthusiasm.
Good Night, Gorilla. My son, my husband, and I used to pore over Peggy Rathmann’s clever picture books. We loved their sly visual references to each other (like how Officer Buckle and Gloria make a small, subtle appearance in Ten Minutes Till Bedtime) and their spare but revealing text. One night, on the millionth read of Good Night, Gorilla, we even added our own annotations.
These aren’t books you give away. Or forget. (You’re talking to someone who just recited Sandra Boynton’s Moo, Baa, La La La! from memory over dinner.)
Happy World Read Aloud Day, everyone!
Elisabeth Dahl writes for adults and children from her home in Baltimore. Genie Wishes, a middle-grade novel about a fifth-grade class blogger, is her first book. Her writing for adults has appeared at NPR.org, TheRumpus.net, and Baltimore Fishbowl. Learn more at www.elisabethdahl.com.
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