Childhood Classics

With Summer Reading in full swing, my thoughts turn to my childhood experience checking out and reading books at my local public library.  At first I was going to write about my absolute favorite books that I read and re-read again and again.  But most of them (Small in the Saddle, Debbie’s Dollhouse, The Journey of Bangwell Putt) are out of print and not available at the library (sniff).  So let’s go more mainstream.  Here are few of my favorite picture books from childhood.

The Best Nest by P.D. Eastman (1968) – Who DIDN’T grow up reading books in the Dr Seuss series?  And this was an “I can read it all by myself” certified beginner book!  The story follows a bird couple on their quest for a “better” home for their baby-to-be.  They try a boot…but a foot gets in the way.  They try a mailbox but there are too many letters.  A belfry in the church seems like a possibility?  Until the bell ringer comes by.  In the end, they discover that there is no place like home.

Mr. Bird went in.
And there was Mrs. Bird!
Sitting there, 
“I love my house.
I love my nest.
In all the world
This nest is best.”

Eastman worked for Walt Disney Productions in animation, story-sketch and production design. He also worked in the cartoon unit for Warner Brothers. During WWII he was in a unit headed by Theodor Geisel, later to become known as Dr. Seuss.  He was also a writer and storyboard artist for the Mr. Magoo series.

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban (1976) – Frances, the Badger, LOVES Bread and Jam.  She eats it for breakfast, school lunch, afternoon snacks and dinner.  Mom and Dad are very understanding and provide her with all the bread and jam she wants.  That is, until the day she decides maybe she’s tired of it.  While the family enjoys spaghetti for dinner, Frances looks at her plate of bread and jam.

She sang so softly that Mother and Father could scarcely hear her:
What I am
Is tired of jam.

“I want spaghetti and meatballs,” said Frances.
“I had no idea you liked spaghetti and meatballs!” said Mother.
“How do you know what I’ll like if you won’t even try me?” asked Frances wiping her eyes.

Hoban was an American expatriate writer who lived in London from 1969 until his death.  In addition to children’s books his works span many genres including fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, and poetry.  His first wife, Lillian, illustrated his books.

Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber (1972) – Ira has been asked to his first sleepover by his friend Reggie.  He debates whether or not to bring his teddy bear.  His parents encourage him, but his sister tells him Reggie will laugh.  So he decides to leave the bear at home.  The boys have a blast, including looking at Reggie’s “junk” collection which includes bottle caps (check out the Hires Root Bear cap), a chain made from chewing gum wrappers (my sister had a huge chain with gum wrappers from Clove, Clark’s Teaberry, Juicy Fruit and Fruit Stripe) jumbo goggles, and a bunch of rubber stamps from his dad’s office.  When the scary story telling begins, Reggie pauses to get something out of his drawer.

It was a teddy bear.
Is that your teddy bear? I asked.
What? Said Reggie.
Is that your teddy bear?
Uh-huh, Reggie answered.
Do you sleep with him all the time?
Does your teddy bear have a name? I said louder.
Uh-huh, Reggie answered.
You won’t laugh?
Promise? I promise.
It’s Foo Foo.”
Did you say Foo Foo?
Uh-huh, said Reggie.

And so Ira goes back home (next door) to get his teddy bear, “Tah Tah.”  

Bernard Waber is also famous for his Lyle, Lyle Crocodile series.  He was a World War II veteran, and, after earning his art degree, was employed by the art department at Conde Nast Publishing.  He worked on his own books at night and on the weekends.

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (1976) – A Caldecott Honor Book and childhood classic, Blueberries tells the story of little Sal and her mother as they go berry picking.  On the other side of the mountain, Mama Bear and Little Bear are also picking berries.  Little ones wander off and get mixed up much to the shock of Sal’s mother and Mama Bear.

"Little Sal said nothing. She picked three berries and dropped them, kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk, in her small tin pail.  Little Bear’s mother turned around…”Garumpf!” she cried, choking on a mouthful of berries…"

McCloskey was the first artist to win the Caldecott Medal twice, for Make Way for Ducklings (1942) and Time of Wonder (1958).  And in 2000, the Library of Congress named him a Living Legend.

The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone (1971) – A Sesame Street series book featuring “loveable, furry old Grover,” The Monster tells about Grover’s absolute fear of Monsters.  He pleads with us not to keep reading.  He tries to tie the pages together to keep us from turning the page.  Then he nails the pages together!  He even builds a sturdy brick wall.   Who is at the end of the book?

“All Right! All Right! All Right! Do you know that every time you turn another page…you not only get us closer to the MONSTER at the end of this book, but you make a terrible mess!?

Jon Stone was the first head writer for Sesame Street and one of the show’s principal directors and producers for over 24 years.

Please share your childhood favorites.  And don’t forget to sign up for the Children’s, Teen, or Adult Summer Reading Challenge today!

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