I still remember the peaceful nights of my childhood. Every evening, my mother would sit between my sister and I and read us a bedtime story. We had an impressive collection of picture books back in the day, and my mother, waiting for us in bed, would allow each of us to select one story from our crowded shelves to read each night. As the moon watched us, my mother would read the two stories aloud to us in a soft, cadenced voice, lulling us to sleep—or so she hoped.
I, now in college, haven’t touched a picture book in many years, and bedtime reading often happens begrudgingly, only when I cannot sleep or have schoolwork to finish before morning. These days, my life is full of novels, textbooks, and other hefty college reading; I no longer have time to read so much for fun. I can only remember a handful of the books of my past, the beloved few that escaped erasure by time; I do not even know if my mother still has them. These few that I can remember are very special to me. They are the stories that taught me how to read, laid the foundation of my education and academic achievements, and starred in those lovely memories of my childhood. I am incredibly grateful for the role they played in my life.
When I recall those lost days of my past, The Sun Egg by Elsa Beskow is the first book that surfaces in my mind. I adored this story, perhaps because I loved nature growing up, or maybe because I was fascinated with the potential of fairies and magic creatures in the woods. The Sun Egg (according to my memory) is about a fairy who finds an orange that someone dropped in the forest. The fairy and her other forest friends try to figure out what the orange is, eventually discovering that it is full of delicious orange juice. The fairy defends her find from the other creatures of the forest and eventually travels south with the birds, where oranges grow on trees, and she indulges in her bounty. This book has beautiful artwork that I can still visualize to this day, and it brings to life all the wonders of a child’s imagination—such as fairies and talking animals—while also revealing the wonders of the ordinary world, such as how something as mundane as an orange is an amazing gift of life.
I also have very fond memories of How Fletcher Was Hatched by Harry and Wende Devlin. I believe, if I remember correctly, my copy of this book belonged to my mother before becoming a possession of mine. As the book was originally published in 1969, this is a likely possibility, though the age of this story did not prevent me from loving it, and I’m sure the children of today would agree. In this book, a dog, Fletcher, becomes jealous when his owner, a young girl, begins to give more attention to her baby chickens than to Fletcher. Fletcher, in turn, believes he must hatch from an egg, like the chicks, to be as lovable as they are. Enlisting the help of a nearby beaver and other animals, Fletcher constructs a large egg around himself and stays inside it all night (creating a big spectacle with the sudden appearance of his oversized egg). Fletcher bursts out when he hears the voice of his girl in the crowd. Of course, the girl hugs her dog, reassures him that he did not need to hatch for her to love him, and their relationship is restored. I believe this book resonated with me, and with children across the decades, because almost everyone can relate to Fletcher’s feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and loneliness. It teaches kids that, even if they feel left out, they do not need to change themselves or their conditions of birth to be accepted.
To this day, I still smile when I think about The Baby Beebee Bird by Diane Redfield Massie. This book, geared towards younger children, is adorable. It takes place in a zoo where none of the animals can sleep because one of their members—the baby beebee bird—insists on singing every night, keeping the others awake. I had an older copy of this book, which was originally published in 1963, and the artwork was amazing. It was simple and stylized, but I remember the baby beebee bird looked so cute, and I absolutely loved it as a child. This book is for all the kids who march to the beat of their own drum and stand out (though hopefully not by singing all night long), and it encourages young kids to find their place in the world.
I bring up the books of my past to honor stories I once loved, but also for National Picture Book Month (which is every November). As November passes us by, I encourage everyone to step back and remember the picture books that shaped their childhood. The presence of books in one’s home, the ability to read, and the engagement in activities like parent-child read aloud has a massive impact on a young person’s learning and life achievement. Whether you realize it or not, these books played a part in creating the person you are today. You can thank those books for where you are now.
And to all the parents out there, as you recall the books of your childhood, considering reading some of these stories to your kids. They may impact your kids as much as they impacted you, creating memories between you and them that will last a lifetime and hopefully instill a lifelong love of reading in them.