Friday, February 24, 2012

My Very First Passion

I am a reader.  I have been reading since I was 3 years old.  I fell in love with books and have never let go.  My Grandmother Shull gave me Pinocchio and Black Beauty when I was 5-6.  Not picture books but the unabridged editions.  I can still remember the utter wonderment I felt upon reading them.  I can still remember being horrified by the horrible treatment Black Beauty received from several of her owners.  And I remember the relief I felt when she finally found her forever home.  Pinocchio, on the other hand, was a romp, a delight for the imagination and actually very scary in parts but I loved it!  My parents weren't sure that I had actually comprehended what I read so they quizzed me and I passed.  It was on then!  The pictures I have included here aren't the covers I remember and, of course, there was no Kindle.

In the 1950's and 1960's children's literature was not at an all time high.  Good books weren't easy to come by.  However, I would troll the aisles of the libraries at every school I attended.  I am an Air Force brat so there were at least 5 by the time I got to high school. I read every nurse, teacher, stewardess (yep, that's what they were called) book I could find.  I read every biography I could put my hands on.  I read about Tom Dooley.  No, not the one in the song.  The doctor who went, on his own, to the outbacks of Cambodia and Laos to fight disease and help teach the locals about staying well.  And I read To Kill a Mockingbird, to this day one of the most important books I've ever read.  Atticus, Scout and Boo live in my heart.  The book is unsurpassed as far as I am concerned.

After my son went to college I started working at Redding Book Store, a great independent devoured by Barnes and Nobles.  B&N will always be a dirty word to me.  They decimated the world of wonderful independent bookstores.  Nonetheless, the almost two years I spent at RBS were a great time for me.  I was in heaven!  I could touch them and hold them and check them out!  I could answer questions about recommendations.  I hand sold over 100 copies of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines.  Another book I still chew on in my mind.  And then I became aware of all of the fabulous children books now available.

I had taken two Library Science courses at UNC-Chapel Hill while going for my teaching certificate.  Jeremy was small and we both discovered the wonders of picture books.  I also fell hard for middle readers.  The Caldecott and Newbury awards were beacons.  I had the opportunity at RBS to help manage the children's department.  I even had a story hour on Sundays which usually held 5-6 kids' attention.  One Valentine's Day I read I'll Love You Forever by Robert Munch.  Every mother there was in tears . . . as well as me.  That year I gave my grown children that book for Christmas.  Jeremy's response was, "Mom, I love you but if you ever put a ladder up to my window and peek at me, I will push it over!" 

I started collecting children's books while working at RBS, lots of them.  When I moved to Winston-Salem I had ~25 boxes of books alone.  Not all of them were for children; many were for this big child.  However, I wanted to open a business called The Book Lady.  I saw myself going to day cares, birthday parties, local schools, etc, and reading to the children.  All subjects including first tooth, first little sister, etc, could be covered.  I had fanciful books, history books, holiday books . . . well, you get the picture. 

In Winston I started working at Borders Bookstore.  Borders' philosophy was so far and away from B&N that it almost felt independent.  After working the night shift for a month or so I began managing the children's department.  I climbed ladders to get books down, hauled books all over the place to arrange and rearrange and put up displays.  I hand sold books because I had read so many of them and actually had middle readers come back and ask for more.  I again had a story hour and would theme it each week.  It attracted a lot of repeats and new children who had heard about it.  I loved it. 

Then within short order, I got engaged, blew my ankle out and moved to Roanoke Rapids.  Butch and I have our own library here.  It is the extra bedroom and it is lined with bookshelves.  Oh, there are books in stacks in every room of the house.  But the children's book collection is pretty much contained in the library.  I would estimate that we have ~2,000 books written for children but with such beautiful prose and art that I am immersed from the beginning.  My husband gives me books by Polacco and Brett every year.  I love the If You Give a Mouse . . . .and subsequent books by Laura Numeroff.  I tracked down all of the Betsy, Tacy and Tib books I loved as a girl as well as An All Of A Kind Family.  And I am very fond of Curtis Taylor's book, Pet My Dragon.  I believe it was the first book for children on Kindle.

Now that you know I am absolutely obsessed by the written word and illustrations, I will be writing more about books I love in the time to come.  I hope that if you see a book you aren't familiar with, you will give it a try.  You don't have to like it . . . . Just try it!  One last anecdote:  Jeremy has never been much of a reader.  He always said it made him sleepy.  One day, when he was about 13, he crawled into my lap and said, "Mom, are you sure I am not adopted?"  I said, "Yep, pretty much, I was there.  Why?"  He said, "Because you LOVE to read and I don't really!"  It's okay, Baby, you are brilliant at so many other things beyond my realm!


  1. I'm rather fond of Pet My Dragon as well... ho ho...But I won't get within 10 feet of I'll Love You Forever. A friend of mine read it to me the night before Curt left for college, and I've never recovered.

    I absolutely agree with you about To Kill a Mockingbird.

  2. I agree with you! There is nothing better than the perfect marriage of word and illustrations! Oh sure, you can get lost in a novel creating your images to the wonderful descriptive prose but when an illustrator adds emotion, and action with their sense of the world to the words through illustrations it can be magical.

    I would say that I have read 1000' (probably the high 1000's) of children's books. It is an occupational hazard of kindergarten teachers.

    My absolute favorites include....

    The really silly books: Dumb Bunnies, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Max's Dragon Shirt (just reminds me of being a boy).
    The rhyming books: Big Black Bear and One Hundred Hungry Ants
    The girl power books: Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon and The Paper Bag Princess.
    The nearly wordless books: Buz and Time Flies. Both of those books play up the marriage of words and illustrations better than most.
    The crazy wordy book: Double Trouble in Walla Walla (just plain fun to read in front of a class)
    The counting book: Teeth, Tails & Tentacles (beautiful woodcut prints)

    BTW, I don't think Pet My Dragon? is the first picture book for kindle but it certainly was one of the first that was specifically formatted for any e-book format! Thanks for the shout out!