Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be—
I had a Mother who read to me."
With our youngest, Lewis, leaving home in the fall to attend college in the Midwest, this Mother’s Day takes on a special meaning and gives me pause to reflect. The school-age years have been full, as I watched our children forge their own friendships and become the young adults that they are, but it was the early years when we hunkered down on the couch and read piles of books for hours at a time, completely absorbed in stories, that hold the fondest memories.
I liked to read aloud and my kids loved to listen—a match made in heaven. In those early years of babies and preschoolers, the one constant I remember is reading books, stacks of picture books. I know there were swing sets and sandboxes, mud pie concoctions and villages made of refrigerator boxes. There were tears and tantrums and endless meals, but what I remember most of all are the books being read and the stories imagined. It may be how I kept my sanity, often thinking that I was actually able to sleep and read to them at the same time.
It all began with my desperation to get a two-week old Emma to sleep, if only for an hour. I grabbed the nearest thing at hand, a copy of Mad About Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, and began to read. “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, there were twelve little girls in two straight lines…” and on it went, and as long as I read she lay quietly listening to the end of the complete collection. I had cast my first spell on this little child. The likes of Goodnight Gorilla with the many colored keys and Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance took us through, until we had the endurance to tackle books with more text, like Babar or anything by Elsa Beskow or William Steig. Babar and the Old Lady who offered him her wallet to buy a suit and old Cornelius the quavering elephant have remained dear friends to us all.
When they could listen to chapter books things got really exciting. These long, rich, layered stories were where the passion took purchase. The Wizard of Oz books captured their imaginations like nothing before. They would leap up and spend hours being the characters. At one point, two-year-old Lewis looked longingly at his sister dressed in a new silver lamé tin man costume (sewn in the wee hours by her mother) and exclaimed wistfully, “Now I can be Dorothy.” And he was, day after day for weeks, dressed in blue gingham and ruby slippers. I was compelled to tuck his dress up into his parka to save him or me the embarrassment of the preschool mothers at the grocery store. Then Pippi Longstocking and her faithful side kick Mr. Nilsson came into our lives. It was as close to a cult as I’ve ever seen around our house, complete with wires in Emma’s braids, striped tights on Lewis, and circus shows in the backyard.
Perhaps because we all enjoyed the big stories so much, neither of our kids felt compelled to learn to read independently at a very young age. Captain Underpants was the first book a six-year-old Emma read aloud by herself to her four-year-old brother, who was delighted. In fact, they reluctantly slogged through boring level readers, until I would tell them to forget about that and we would pile back on the couch with our favorite micro niche of cheerful fantasy. During those days, The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards set us on the quest for anything as good. The Battle of Castle Cockatrice by Gerald Durrell (unfortunately out of print) was terrific with its parrot who annually aired all the words in the dictionary, and then anything by Eva Ibbotson, particularly The Secret of Platform 13.
It was on New Year's Eve of his third year when Lewis’s godfather told him that if he left his favorite books open on that night at midnight the characters would come to life. Being the fearful little guy that he was, Lewis came running down stairs well after his bedtime to slam Little House on the Prairie shut, realizing that the Indian who stealthily came into Ma’s kitchen demanding corn cakes was going to soon be coming out of that book and into his house.
Lewis in particular was hooked on audio books and the rest of us followed suit. We lived for Erickson’s Hank the Cow Dog stories with Hank the head of ranch security and his Texas drawl. We piled into the car to play My Only May Amelia as we drove through Astoria, Will Hobbs’s Ghost Canoe in Neah Bay, or the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder like On the Banks of Plum Creek, providing a soothing narration to long road trips. Even years later at 12 and 14, these kids of ours made a pact to finish all Harry Potter books by listening to the Jim Dale audio to assure that neither one got to the end first.
So maybe I could have done this mothering thing differently and my children would be practical scientists or mathematicians in the making, but instead they are exactly as they always have been and really in my opinion, should be, the sorts who love stories, bookseller’s children. I am forever grateful for those years spent reading to them. So if you are at home with little ones, I suggest you make time to read. Read a lot to them. Punctuate your days with books, piles of books on the couch. You will never regret it.
Happy Mother's Day,
Owner and Bookseller
Thurs, May 15, 6:30pm: Mystery Night: A Fundraiser for the Mercer Island Senior Foundation
Thurs, May 22, 7pm: Judy Bordeaux, author of The House on Sylvia Street
Sun, June 1, 4pm: James Gottesman, author of The Search of Grace
Tues, Jun 3, 7pm: Islander Middle School Fundraiser
At a recent editorial meeting, James and Miriam launched into a long-winded recitation of Where the Wild Things Are. In the same spirit, here are five more lap books to learn by heart.
On Thursday, May 15th, we'll be discussing the following list of historical mystery novels as we celebrate (and raise money for) the Senior Foundation of Mercer Island.
Island Books hosts an open book club that meets the last Thursday of each month at 7:30pm. All are welcome to attend, and if you purchase your book here in the store you'll always get a 10% discount.
We always offer a 20% discount on the top ten bestsellers in non-fiction and fiction for the week, as reported by independent booksellers across the country.