The earliest book I remember my mother reading me was Goodnight, Moon. I can still remember the hush of her voice, the exaggeration of the “oo” sound in her enunciation of “balloon.” I also remember the plink-plink-plink from Blueberries for Sal, the measured and rhythmic way she read about the peddlar placing cap after cap on his head in Caps for Sale, and the feeling of pride and belonging she emoted when she’d read, with dramatic legato: “I will be your mother and I will catch you in my arms” at the end of Runaway Bunny. Interesting, isn’t it, how much those early memories of reading were about her: the sound of her voice, the look in her eyes. Her entire being mediated my experience.
When I was six, my mother took me to procure my own junior library card from the public library we frequented on Connecticut Avenue, close to Chevy Chase Circle. We’d visit it weekly in the summer, all of five of us tumbling out of her air-conditioned SUV into the sticky heat of a D.C. summer, a mess of bony elbows and sunburns and flappy sandals slapping against the pavement. The library was a welcome, damp hush after the sweltering — though short — walk from the parking lot, and we’d scatter across the second floor of the library, the children’s floor, in search of new books to rent for the week. I remember the musty smell of the clothbound chapter books my brother rented, and their weight and strain in the canvas bags my mother used to tote our weekly finds back and forth. I can still feel the cool as I stood amidst rows of wire racks, looking down spine after spine, taking my time in choosing. Interesting, too, how many of these grade school memories of books are tactile: smells, sounds, waves of heat and ripples of dampness.
But I remember with peculiar specificity the morning this weekly excursion climaxed in the signing of my name in uneven, inelegant cursive on the back of that little blue library card. I beamed with pride as my sister Elizabeth, two years my junior, looked on in envy. This card marked a powerful metamorphosis in my lifespan as a reader: reading was becoming something personal and private, mediated only by my own desire and curiosity.
After earning that prized blue card, my memories of reading relocate from my mother’s arms to the floral quilt of my childhood bed, where I read Nancy Drew, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, The Boxcar Children, The Baby Sitter’s Club, Harriet the Spy, The Thoroughbred series, a Wrinkle in Time, The American Girl books, The Bobbsey Twins, Heidi, the My Father’s Dragon books. My bed at that time looked out a wide window over the top of our driveway, which ended in a cul de sac in front of a beautiful stone garage sheltered by an enormous cherry blossom tree that, when in bloom in the early summer, transformed the view out my window into an unreal pink-white confection. The cul de sac was trimmed on one side by a thin crescent of grass, then a semi-circle of boxwoods, then a stone retaining wall that overlooked an enormous hill. I loved this ripple of surfaces just outside my window: the pavement, the shock of green grass, the ordered hedge of boxwoods, the sobriety of the stone wall, across which — I knew from hours spent sitting on top of it, my legs dangling down toward the hill — small red aphids criss-crossed in the summer, much to my father’s perennial fury–and then the wild greensward sloping down out of my peripheral vision. I spent a lot of time staring at that pattern while digesting what I’d read, or attempting to mimic the description of a facial expression or posture I’d just encountered in prose–something I still do, much to my own chagrin. (“Her lip curled in anger as she furrowed her brow,” the book will say, and I will find myself arranging my own face in its impression. Do you do the same?)
When I think about reading, I usually think about laying on that bed, caught between turning the pages in transfixion and staring idly, bemusedly at that undulating pattern of the natural and manmade outside my window as I digested what I’d read.
Just a week ago, I caught my three-year-old daughter in that kind of hazy posture of book-borne imagination. She has become increasingly tolerant, over the course of this quarantine, of longer and longer stretches of prose-dense, picture-scarce books. Mr. Magpie has been reading her portions of the Eloise books while ensconced in late-afternoon sprawls on our living room sofa, which, though fancifully-illustrated, are long and rather coyly recherche for a toddler. She has been begging me to read her Winnie the Pooh and The Little Prince, too — which I do, dutifully, all the while anticipating her fingers–still deliciously chubby with toddlerhood, may they stay that way for at least a few months longer!–anxiously turning the pages in search of visual stimulation. But on one recent afternoon, as I perched at her bedside reading a segment of The Little Prince, I caught her throwing her feet up against the headboard in lazy focus, listening and imagining.
I felt myself swell with excitement on her behalf: the long and delicious stretches of afternoons she will spend turning the pages of wonderful books, their images and narratives and characters becoming touchstones she will spring from forever.
To be raised by books!
I almost wish I could go back and re-live that experience.
I can’t wait for her.
What books meant the most to you as a child?!
+I cribbed the title of this post from one of mini’s well-loved bedtime books. Mini has loved this one since she was about two. There is one page with a lot of little tiny images scattered all over it, and she loves to pick out the shapes, even now: “a treasure chest!” “a whale!” “a sailboat!” (More of my favorite bedtime books for children here.)
+A little late-in-the-game (how are we almost to the end of May?!) I panicked and realized I had very little planned for my son’s first birthday beyond his big present. Of course there’s not much we can do (certainly no socializing), but I decided we’d still decorate and celebrate with a farm theme:
THIS CANDLE (HOW AMAZING?!)
+I had to get him this jon jon to complete the look!
+Does mini need this to coordinate?!
+This embroidered maxi has an Agua Bendita vibe to it (for way less).
+These ginger jar cocktail napkins are perfection!
+I am not usually a platform kind of girl, but these are absolute perfection.
+This $98 dress is so on-trend. Love.
+A great set of starter books for your child’s library if you are expecting your first!