15 July 2008

Wise Margaret Brown

Not so long ago, I read a column by Libby Gruner about books for babies. She wrote eloquently about picking books as a gift for a friend's new baby, and about the deeply ingrained memories that each fondled book recalls. When you've read something over and over to your own child, the words sear themselves into your brain, while your hands recall the very shape and heft and texture of the book itself.

At the grand old age of four and two-thirds, Miss M. is largely past the board book stage, though a few creep out from time to time. Her bookshelves were overflowing and it was time for a culling, time to make room for new books. For lack of a better way to begin, I took out all the baby board books and put them aside. But while I was doing it, I had to make a separate pile for the Margaret Wise Brown books were talking to me.

We've got six. Some are new copies, given to Miss M. over the past few years. A couple are "Little Golden Book" editions from my childhood. Another came from eBay. I could read them all, each and every night.

There's a calm poetry to her books, with idiosyncratic repetition and alliteration amid the prose. Phrases like "wild green world" and "purple as violets / purple as plums / purple as shadows on late afternoons" and "the sun went down beyond the river / the sky grew wild and red" and "and in all that brown, the sun went down" get repeated or paralleled. The words demand a soothing tone of voice, a slow cadence, just right for the wind-down before bed, "in the big red barn / in the dark night sky".

I can't bear to put them away. It would be too sharp a sign that my baby's no longer a baby.

27 comments:

Melanie said...

ACK! I was JUST writing a post about "Little Fur Family" and my undying love of MWB's quirky, perfect prose.

Her books are our favorite nightly reads, hands down.

Julia said...

We have the big red barn and the goodnight, moon. We "read" them often. The reason for the quotes there is that I translated the books, at first in real time (with only minor adjustments needed later for phrases I was not happy with), and then I had the translations memorized, and so did Monkey. She used to ask for those books all the time.

Mental P Mama said...

My babies will be 17 in two weeks, and I still have these books out and about. Goodnight Moon makes me weep to this very day. *sigh

Kelly said...

I'm a sucker for The Big Red Barn. It is so melodic and relaxing.

susie said...

My favorite book as a child was The Color Kittens. I love reading it to my 2 year old now, and he loves it, too.

FreshHell said...

Libby's a friend of mine. I like some of the MWB books but I think she could have used a good editor. My favorites, because they're so out there, are Scuppers the Sailor Dog (not sure if that's the correct title), and one about the dog Crispin's Crispian. The nice thing about board books is that they're perfect primers for reading. Esp the ones with one word per page or the books that label objects. Dusty learned to read looking at those board books. As for MWB, you could always buy the "big girl" version of those board books.

S. said...

My favorite, and Z.'s, is The Steamroller, which was (I believe) only published posthumously and is out of print but you really have to get it. It's the perfect companion to Mike Mulligan.

nonlineargirl said...

Ada has loved the MWB books - she still loves the color kittens, which I read to her, hearing my mother-in-law's voice in my head. For a while the runaway bunny was at the top of the must read list. It took me a while to realize they were all by one person, since the art is so different in each one.

Janet said...

My Goodnight Moon got trashed somewhere between babies 1 and 3. I'm tempted to go out and buy a pristine copy, just for me to keep.

Melissa said...

I gotta say, that getting rid of the old books to make room for new hurts more than the clothes or toys. I have managed to keep a few of the very favorites though.

noble pig said...

I know it's so hard. My kids books are piling so high and I can't throw them out. I adore books. My eight year old is reading only chapter books now without pictures. It's so sad!

susan said...

Curious Girl (just 6 ) would tell you to put those books back! I have culled her baby board book collection, but the top shelf of her bookcase (which is, handily, a little shorter than the others) is full of her favorite board books. (Alas, our copy of the red barn fell apart from over use and a few too many nibbles from the little owner!) But now that she is starting to read herself, slowly, the board books are enjoying a renaissance. We are thinking of not unpacking them right away after we move, to see if she misses them. It will be hard to see them go away.

the mama bird diaries said...

So true! And way to hard to put away.

Cactus Petunia said...

I STILL read The Runaway Bunny every now and then, and my kids are in their 20's!

lilypotter said...

My kids love Goodnight Moon. (There are at least 3 copies floating around the house.) Runaway Bunny is a fave, too. So many great memories... I can see why it's hard for you to put them away.

Angeline said...

The part about how the words sear into the brain is so true! My boys could read a story book originated from the pixar disney cartoon 'CARS' when they were just 3 and 2 years old! Sounds impressive, nah!! When you point at any word on the book, they can even say it out...it's pure memorizing. - but still amazing!

painted maypole said...

we still occasionally read Goodnight, Moon (plus, I'm definately keeping it for the grandkids!) and now we find that some simple board books are great for our beginning reader

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I'm at the stage where I'm putting things away for grandkids!

I am a total children's book addict.

Kelley said...

There is one book I would like to throw away of Boo's. Green Eggs and ham. God knows we don't need it anymore as the damn thing is burnt into my retina.

But our favourite book to read together is 'I love you StinkyFace' and I will never EVER get rid of that one.

emma said...

We're in the process of weeding out the picture books. The problem is that the box of "books to save" is way larger than the box of "books to donate"!
:)

Victoria said...

My Girl (5) still treasures her baby books and they are in rotation for her. But I have to hide my Boy's (8) baby books on his book shelf behind his Big Kid books.

Sometimes I catch him reading them.

This was a sweet post. They grow too quickly. Sigh.

mindy said...

Oh! I love her as well. I've been wondering what should be the first books I give to my new nephew--I'll add these to the list. ;)

Vered said...

My kids are 6 and 8. We still have a few of her books! They're classics.

Furrow said...

The only one of those I have is Color Kittens. I've not read through it much yet, because Z wants to rip books out of my hand and eat them. We have to stick with cloth and board, for now. I can't wait to have fond reading memories with her, though.

thrice said...

I just parted with a bog of beloved clothes and it was ridiculously emotional. I find it helps when I find a good home for the items I am letting go.

Ophelia Rising said...

She is AWESOME. Just love her books.

I'm going through this same thing with Jack, who is now into chapter books, and who only sometimes still likes to be read picture books. I'm excited for him, and also wistful at the same time. (Although, you know - "James and the Giant Peach?" "Charlott's Web?" "Stuart Little?" Bring it on)!

Krysta said...

my kids are 16, 13, 11, and 10 and goodnight moon is still not packed up and put away. they love it and i love it, it has a a spot on the book case.