It’s #tbt! (That’s Throwback Thursday, for those of you who aren’t up on the teen hashtag lingo.) I am not one for posting awkward photos of myself in glasses and braces and tight-rolled jeans . . . but I am going to dedicate this post to some blasts from the past.
A lot of adults who love reading have loved books for as long as they can remember. That is certainly the case for me. I have great childhood memories of books. My mom took my brother, John, and me to the library once a week. Our age dictated the number of books we were allowed to borrow (when I was four, I could check out four books). My parents read to me every night (and day, for that matter), and I loved it. They are both great read-aloud readers (you know the kind–different voices, good changes in inflection, etc.). Even when I was a little, bitty kid, I thought books were great.
So, in honor of #tbt, I’m devoting this post to some of my favorites from way back. In no particular order, here are six amazing books you should read to your little kids (or your grandkids or your nieces and nephews or your friends’ kids):
After I was born, my parents thought it would be a good idea to have me share a room with John. But he was not my biggest fan. My mom loves to tell the story of John screaming, “Get this baby outta here!” when I was crying in the middle of the night and woke him up.
This is one of the books my parents got for my brother to help ease him through the transition of having a little sister. They must have read it to him a billion times. And, although I was but a babe, I was paying attention, too. Some of my first words were “Buh Beh.” According to my mother, “Buh Beh” meant “Brother Bear,” which is what I first called my brother. I know, it’s too cute to be believed.
When I was little, I loved the whole Berenstain Bears series. I loved them so much that my dad used to write knock-off Berenstain Bears books to convince me to do things I didn’t want to do. I still have some of them. As I was writing this post, I dug one out of a box in my basement. It’s printed on two (still attached) sheets of dot-matrix printer paper. It must have been typed on a word processor (it was written before we got our state-of-the-art Commodore 64, after all).
The title is “Berenstain Beras [sic] Stay Home Alone.” Based on that typo (and the smattering of others contained in the story), I’m guessing Dad wrote it speedily–probably in a last-ditch effort to get me to chill out and stop throwing a temper tantrum. It’s pretty hilarious.
If you remember the real Berenstain Bears books, then you know they all begin with a quatrain. Here’s the poem that begins my dad’s fake Berenstain Bears story:
Learning to take care of themselves all alone;
The growing cubs struggle with fear of the unknown.
They realize that sometimes young bears have to grow,
And stay home alone without feeling low.
The rest is a story that uses all of the Berenstain Bears’ characters (Gramps and Gran, Momma Bear and Poppa Bear, Sister Bear and Brother Bear, and even Mrs. Grizzle) to convince little me that I could stay home alone for a couple of hours with my brother, while my parents went to an evening meeting (I’m guessing it was Bible study or some such). Sister Bear is whiny and sniffly and has some really glorious dialogue (“But I don’t want to say home alone!”). Eventually, Poppa Bear and Momma Bear go to their evening meeting, Brother Bear and Sister Bear stay home alone, and, as a reward the next day Momma Bear takes Brother Bear and Sister Bear to the movies.
Most importantly, Sister Bear is happy and a little bit more mature at the end of the story. Just like in the real books.
I’ve never been much of a sleeper. I hated going to bed as a kid, yet my parents insisted on giving me ridiculously early bedtimes (I’m pretty sure they just wanted a break from me). When I was nine, my bedtime was still 8:00 . . . which meant I couldn’t stay up for any primetime television shows. They wouldn’t even let me stay up for an extra half hour on Thursdays to watch The Cosby Show. I still hold a grudge.
Whenever I went to bed, I felt like I was missing out on fun things. I was scared of the dark and slept with my overhead light on until I was seven or eight. Sleep and I were not friends.
Naturally, I loved Bedtime for Frances when I was really little, because Frances understood my plight. She did not want to go to sleep. Especially not at 7:00. So, she did the things kids do to avoid going to bed. She got her kisses and her glass of milk and her extra kisses. And, like me, even after she finally went to bed, she couldn’t actually go to sleep. Her brain kept her up, and her imagination ran wild. There were tigers and spiders and other creepy things in her room. She just knew it. So, of course, she had to wake up her parents (Why were they sleeping, anyway?).
Frances got it. She knew what was up. Going to sleep sucked.
Not to mention, she’s a badger. You gotta love a badger.
3. Goose Goofs Off
By Jacqueline Reinach
Illustrations by Richard Hefter
My parents got me the Sweet Pickles school bus—a little green, plastic carrying case full of stories and games and delights—when I was three or four years old. If you were a kid in the early-80’s, then you should remember the Sweet Pickles school bus. But if you don’t, this will jog your memory:
I carried that little green bus with me wherever I went. It was the greatest.
There are 26 original Sweet Pickles books (one animal storybook for each letter of the alphabet, of course). Each animal has a specific personality trait or flaw that defines him or her. Goof-Off Goose was my fave. She is chill and lazy and a major procrastinator. She has lots of stuff to do, but she refuses to do any of it–it can all wait until tomorrow.
Goose Goofs Off is a cautionary tale, and I’m pretty sure I can thank Goof-Off Goose for turning me into a Responsible Rabbit.
In 2012, Bento Box Interactive Holdings obtained the rights to the Sweet Pickles books and began re-releasing them in digital formats for a new generation of readers. If you’re not familiar with the Sweet Pickles books (or if you are familiar with them and remember them fondly), then I have a real treat for you. I discovered THIS while I was writing this post—you can download Very Worried Walrus for free! You’re welcome.
Oh, this book. It just makes me smile. It’s about a little boy and his balloon friend. My brother and I had a big hardback version that we read together many, many times. I no longer have that one, but John gave me a copy of Le Balon Rouge (the original French version of the book) as a gift several years ago. When I was still practicing law, it sat on my office bookshelf next to all of my law books and binders, and I read it when I was having a particularly rough day. It always cheered me up.
Rather than illustrations, the book has fabulous photographs of the kid and his balloon pal in Paris. That, in and of itself, is reason enough to love the book. But it’s also a great story of friendship.
It was originally a 34-minute short film. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch it now. It’s from the 50’s, so don’t expect anything fancy. Just appreciate the gorgeousness of Paris and the sweetness of the story:
Tomie dePaola has a lot of gems (over 200, in fact, and he’s still cranking them out!). You may know Strega Nona–the folktale about the good witch, her magic pasta pot, and her naughty apprentice. I love that one, too.
In addition to folktales like Strega Nona, dePaola has also retold a number of Christian stories. I am quite certain that is one of the reasons my parents loved his books so much.
The Clown of God is the one I remember the most from my childhood. It’s a story of a little peasant orphan who gives baby Jesus the only gift he can: his juggling. The thing I love most about Tomie dePaola’s books are his illustrations. And these are classic dePaola: colorful, fun, and really, really beautiful.
If I were to guess, I would say that this is my mom’s favorite Tomie dePaola book, too, because I can remember her reading it to me dozens of times.
The Mr. Men and Little Miss series were big favorites of mine when I was really little. Each book focused on a Little Miss or Mr. who was named for his/her defining personality trait (a lot like the Sweet Pickles animals, come to think of it). I can’t imagine why, but Little Miss Bossy really resonated with me. So did Little Miss Princess, Little Miss Chatterbox, Little Miss Naughty, Mr. Silly, and Mr. Noisy.
My favorite characters showed up in all of the books (in this book, for example, Little Miss Bossy runs into a singing Mr. Noisy and tells him to be quiet). And you have to love the illustrations–they’re cartoony, silly, color-saturated, and very kid-friendly.
This family photo is one of dozens that were taken for my family’s Christmas picture in 1980. My parents kept me calm and quiet (relatively speaking) by making sure I had my Little Miss and Mr. books to keep me occupied. Everyone who got the Cassel family’s Christmas card that year knew what a big part of our lives Mr. Messy and Mr. Tickle were.
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There are lots and lots of other kids’ books that I love (like Richard Scarry’s books, Where the Wild Things Are, all of Shel Silverstein’s glorious books, and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), but these are the six that I remember really loving as a kid.
Which kids’ books do you remember? What #tbt books would you add to this list?