Thursday, October 04, 2007


I was raised in a book house rather than a television house. (I know, I've written about it before, about being a culturally deprived child - what can I say, it marked me). What's more, my book house was strongly anglo-centric and had a definite high-water mark at around 1950. I read very few books that were written after that time, and those that were often had an earlier setting or were (I feel) strongly pre-war in philosophy and voice.

Kids at my school, those who read (and that was a small few) were reading Judy Bloom while I was following the adventures of the St. Clair twins in their English boarding school. It meant that I was well grounded in "classic" children's literature, but had absolutely nothing to say to anyone my own age.

And that was a problem you see, because half of the joy of a book is finding someone who is just as excited about it as you are. You need to be able to read out the funny bits and have someone else get all lit up and excited because they loved that part - and what about...??

There were a few books when I was little that became "my" books, the books I read over and over and incorporated into my private world: The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, and L.M. Montogomery's Anne books (we didn't have Emily on our shelves so I only met her much later on). For several years I fantasized that I would, at around age 11, crawl through a wardrobe to find emerge in Prince Edward Island transmogrified into a powerful red-haired wizard. Or something like that.

When I had Children I happily introduced them to many of my favorites by the simple method of reading out loud to them when they were essentially captive and helpless (lunch is good because they're eating and their little mouths are full). We started with Seuss and Milne and worked our way through most of the Short List of Children's Literature to varying reactions. Generally they liked what they heard, and there was a rush at the end of the book to be first to claim it for the re-read (it's not really your book until you've read it yourself.).

Now, one of the children is the Book Child. They all read, but this is the one who inhales - the one who is not complete unless it has at least one book at its elbow, preferably two so there isn't an agonizing gap of time between reading the last page and standing up to get another book. This Book Child has discovered books of its own (Heidi was one - Child read Heidi every day for MONTHS when it was about 6) but I was slightly sad that none of them was "My Book."

Until this week. Child ran out of books - and when I say that it should be understood that this is calamitous in the extreme, that there is a profound sadness in the air because Child Has Nothing To Read. This Child has for years now been a fantasy snob who gobbles down reams of fairly light and fluffy stuff (sorry Child, but Tamora Pierce IS light and fluffy). If it has a fairy/unicorn/dragon/wizard - or recently darkly misunderstood vampire - in it Child will read it. In this crisis though I tentatively suggested Child give L.M. Montgomery a try, and dug out Emily of New Moon for it. There was a certain amount of resistance, but given the alternative (no book - and possibly having to do homework or chores to entertain itself) Child sighed and gave the book a try.

It took a bit to get used to the language, but when I pointed out this was part of the charm Child was willing to make the effort. Chapter 1 was read with quiet boredom. Chapter 2 went down with a few grudging chuckles; by chapter 3 Child was racing along at its usual breakneck pace and was demanding the second Emily at once. Unfortunately we don't own the third in the series, but Child was now willing to branch out, so I proffered Anne instead. It instantly decided that Matthew was its favorite character (it had to read aloud almost the entirety of the chapter where Matthew goes off to buy Anne a pretty dress) and by bed-time it had read its way nearly to the end.

Which is why just as I was drifting off to sleep I was jerked awake by an indignant howl from Child's room, and I remembered how bitterly I sobbed at that particular chapter whenever I read it. And I had to smile just a little because it was Our Book now.

It's good, you know, to have a Book Child.


Kellan Rhodes said...

What a great post!! I have two Book children - my oldest daughters. I've tried to instill the same love in my son (10 years old), but it's not sticking. My youngest daughter (6), I think will also be a Book child. But ... my oldest girls LOVE books in the way you describe. They are begging me to schedule a book-store-trip, way before they are through with the books in the pile on their desks - for fear when they are through with those, they will have nothing to read. They claim many books as their books and have them on shelves all around their room. I am proud of a lot of things I have taught my children - but this things makes me especially proud - to have instilled this love for reading and for books. I loved this post - thanks. See ya!

marieke said...

Oh I was the child that once crashed into a (thankfully parked) car because I was reading a book on my bicycle.My son (5) has just learned to read. And I am so hoping for a bookchild!!

For Kirk said...

You know the other great thing about having a Book Child? It's meeting parents who were Book Children who now have Book Children of their own (or hope for them) and have Their Own Books to share - that people, that is heaven.