Picture books were scattered around me in a semi-circle as I sorted them on a cold January morning. Most would find a new home and a few, beyond repair, would go by way of the recycle bin.
My honey walked into our home’s upstairs hall where I worked. “What are you doing with those?” He pointed at the smallest stack of picture books I’d tucked next to me. “I thought you wanted to give them away so other children could enjoy them.”
I nodded at the large pile soon to be placed into a canvas tote headed for the library. “Most will. These are different. We have to keep them.”
He tilted his head. “What makes those picture books so different?” He squatted next to me and picked up the tattered book on top, then fanned its yellowed pages. “This one’s falling apart.” He wrinkled his nose. “And it’s musty.”
“So?” I said, reaching out to retrieve the book before he accidentally caused it harm. “It’s my favorite picture book.” I set the frail paperback onto the other two. “I’ve had this since I was really young.”
“That explains why it’s falling apart.” He smirked, teasing me about my recent preoccupation with my advancing years.
“Haha.” I swatted his arm. “It’s not a favorite picture book of mine as a parent or teacher, but from my perspective as a little kid. That’s what makes it extra special.”
He slid the other two books carefully from beneath the top one. “Let me guess,” he said. “These belonged to Thing 1 and Thing 2.”
I had to smile at his reference to our children, a nickname we rarely used now that the older was out of the house and our baby was a year shy of adulthood. “You’ve got it.”
He shook his head and laughed softly. “You’re such a sentimental girl.” He stood and left me alone with my thoughts.
My Four Favorite Picture Books
I hadn’t saved all my favorites. One of my go-to picture books as a little girl was a beautifully crafted paperback version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. I assume the book was handed down to my younger brother and me from our older siblings. I don’t recall the specific drawing on the front cover, but I remember how large that book felt in my hands, one that seemed twice as tall as it was wide. I’d skim my fingers across the cover, the smooth gloss a contrast to the rich velvet texture of Santa’s suit. I’d always read that story aloud, loving to hear the rhythm and rhyme of the holiday poem as I dreamt about Christmas. The whimsical drawings were my tangible proof that Santa and his magic were real. I wonder if that book is still hidden away in my parents’ attic, waiting for me to reclaim it. I wonder, too, if that picture book was as special to my siblings as it was to me.
Another picture book I treasured from a very young age was a pop-up hardcover of the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. In fact, if I recall correctly, that story book tied with Big Wheels as my favorite birthday present the year I turned six. My grandparents arrived at my childhood home on a sunny afternoon where my family was celebrating my birthday in the back yard. I ran to greet them. Grandma exited the car, a grin on her face and a present in her hand. I couldn’t read all the words in that picture book at first, but I knew the story from kindergarten. I was amazed by the 3D pop-up that brought the events to life in my imagination and allowed me to “read” it until I learned to how to decode advanced vocabulary. By the time I was a teen, the book was well-worn and some of the pop-up sections were held together by scotch tape, but good enough to take along with me when I babysat and pulled out whenever my charges required extra entertainment. I’m pretty certain I’d have thrown the picture book away at some point before college. I located a new version of the book online recently, though. Maybe I’ll order it.
Like millions of other children past and present, I loved Dr. Seuss. Green Eggs and Ham was–and is–my favorite of his picture books. At one point I could recite the entire story by heart, and bet I still could if I read it a few times to refresh my memory. I don’t know if my family owned that particular picture book, but I had plenty of opportunities to read it in school or borrow it from my local library.
Unlike my other favorite picture books from my early childhood, I’m unsure most of my readers would be familiar with The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes. This was also a unique book since I managed to keep track of the original and ultimately shared my childhood favorite with hundreds of students before retiring it from my classroom library about a decade ago—the binding too loose to hold its pages well. This Phyllis Krasilosky story is about a man who is too tired to do the dishes one evening after dinner. He opts to relax with his cat instead. (Who wouldn’t, right?) Well, the next night the man puts off doing the chore again, and again the next night and so on. Until one evening, he can no longer avoid the work. The work is tremendous, but the satisfaction he feels upon its completion makes that night hanging out with his cat all the more rewarding. He never shirks his work again and stays organized and happy. That idea of taking care of the little things to prevent them from interfering with quality of life appealed to my Virgo personality and evolved into my mantra of as an adult.
My Children’s Top Pick Picture Books
My daughter’s favorite book as a preschooler was The Wee Puppy Who Wouldn’t Go To Sleep by Jane B. Mason, a story with an adorable, stubborn character (much like our daughter) who learned to go to sleep when told (which our daughter eventually did). On the other hand, my son’s favorite read as a little guy was Don’t let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, a Caldecott winner by Mo Willems. Our son says he loved it so much because the pictures and words made him laugh. I agree that’s a pretty good reason to like a story.
As I turned down the sheets to crawl into bed later that evening, I noticed something out of place on my bookshelf. I walked over to take a closer look. Well, what do you know?, I thought. My non-sentimental, minimalist spouse must’ve retrieved the three picture books from the storage bin in the attic while I’d been at the library.
It’s your turn. What were your favorite picture books as a child?