I have been mulling over this gem of a quote, happened upon in a book I finished last week:
“…That, surely, was what education was all about: it should make it possible for everybody to have the consolations of literature—and Latin, too—to accompany them in their work, whatever it turned out to be. The bus driver who knows his Robert Burns, the waitress who reads Jane Austen or who goes on her day off to look at an exhibition of Vermeers: these are the quiet triumphs of education, Isabel thought. It’s why education was justified for its own sake, and not as a means to some vocational end.”
Alexander McCall Smith, The Forgotten Affairs of Youth, p. 145
My children aren’t learning Latin yet, and are unlikely to articulate the consolations of the literature they grasp with their small and sometimes smeared fingers. But I believe those consolations are there, all the same: heart-easing pictures, exquisite words, gentle humor, toe-tapping rhythms. They console me, too.
After I posted pictures of my little ones reading last week, a couple of friends asked for picture book recommendations. Because it takes no arm-twisting to get me to talk about books, I immediately dreamed up a blog post. Nadia and Andrea, this one’s for you.
I challenged myself to pick ten picture books we love. I almost made it: I chose eleven. But two small people also inserted themselves, favorite books in hand, into that list. I can’t be held responsible.
1: Baby Loves, a darling book for babies and toddlers featuring the mother-and-child artwork of Mary Cassatt and sweet, rhythmic rhymes. I think this was the first book that belonged to any of our children–my parents bought it for C before he was born.
2. Museum Colors (and the other volumes in the series:ABCs, 123, and Shapes). I am a fan of children’s books from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are beautiful and educational–my little people all learned their letters, numbers, shapes, and colors from these books, and the paintings bathed my tired Mama’s imagination along with theirs. (I couldn’t find an amazon.com link for this, so I linked to the ABC volume.)
3. Can You Find it Inside? (and the companion volume Can You Find it Outside?). These books take the same concept farther, asking children to identify specific items in each painting. Also, thanks to the thumbnails on the last pages, and a certain child’s habit of wanting EVERY word read to him, I can identify the titles and artists of a number of American paintings I had never seen before.
4. A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Tasha Tudor. This is my desert-island pick. I have read many editions of these poems and this is my favorite. The illustrations are detailed and delightful, and the poems are unabridged. I sang many of these to my kids with tunes that popped into my head after about the hundredth time through.
(Look–someone popped in with a favorite! This is Lentil by Robert McCloskey [and yes, we love everything else we’ve ever read by him–particularly Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man, which is priceless but too long for my youngest and too long for parents to read aloud without some vocal warmups first]. My kids already loved trains and bands; this book features both and is also the reason each of my kids now owns a harmonica.)
5. Who Has Seen the Wind? This pairs selections from great poets with gorgeous artwork. Some of the poems are well-known, and some less so. My kids love to listen to these, and I love to read them.
6. Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. This is the tenderly funny tale of a kitten who mistakes the moon for a bowl of milk, and sets out to get it. The graphic black-and -white illustrations are breathtaking, and the text is darling. Kitten’s wry face upon ending up in a pond always makes everyone laugh.
7. All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee. This is a magical unfolding of the interconnectedness of humans with each other and our world. Every time I read it to the kids, I find new aspects of the story hidden in the illustrations. The final lines could be read to indicate some kind of whole-earth harmony that probably does not exist on this side of paradise, but I read them to reflect that there are people like us all over the world, and that deep ties bind us together and to the creation we inhabit.
8. Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. This would be one of my boys’ desert-island picks. On each two-page spread, this book shows the parallel journeys of a real train and the (unseen) child’s toy train, traveling the same terrain–for example, the real train climbs a mountain while the toy train inches up a banister. Note: I have to mention that the book reflects its era (it was written in 1949): one line of the text refers to “a black man singing in the West”. I take this to refer to gospel or jazz music (a radio is shown), and I think it will eventually be an opportunity to talk to my kids about the development of musical styles. I don’t think anything racist is intended by it, but the line surprised me the first time I read it and I feel the need to point it out in a recommendation. My kids seem unfazed, and since we have plenty of other books depicting people of various ethnicities, I hope they see it as merely normal. But I plan to keep talking about it.
9. Bear Wants More (and the other books in the series) by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman. Our copies of this series all belong to B, but everyone loves them. They are humorous and beautiful and comforting, and the rhythms work (an important point for me). I like doing different voices and accents for the various animals. For some unknown reason, my Hare is from the Deep South and Badger is an elderly British gentleman.
10. Always Room for One More, by Sorche Nic Leodhas, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian. This is a treasure if you can read music–or can create your own Scottish tune without reading music. The traditional words, with sketched sillhouttes as illustrations, tell a rollicking story of hospitality gone slightly awry. The lilting melody is provided, along with instructions on pronunciation and the fact that you have to exercise creativity in fitting some of the passages to the music. Once you figure out a version of the melody that works for you, it’s great fun. It would be fun without the song, too, but singing makes this one.
(Another interloper. This is currently E’s favorite book: We Help Mommy by Jean Cushman, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. My mom believed in buying any book with Wilkin’s name on it; I loved them all as a child, and I still do. E obviously approves. I can’t find even a marginally good amazon.com link for this one…but maybe you could get it from the library?)
11. New Baby Train by Woody Guthrie, illustrated by Marla Frazee. We should probably invest in a new copy of this, as C is currently carting it everywhere (including outside) in order to draw steam trains from its numerous examples. This book presents a heartwarming “where do babies come from” legend, with the adorably drawn babies riding the train to their destination (beautifully presented with a family holding out their arms in delighted surprise to twins, and a baby running to his parents who have two different skin colors). It makes my kids smile, and sometimes it makes me cry a little. It’s wonderful.
These are some of the books my three never tire of hearing, and I never tire of reading. I hope they mark the beginnings of a long education justified for its own sake–not as training for vocation, but as training for the mind and heart and soul, for the whole little people who are growing up in our house.
*Note: I tried to find reasonable links for all the books, but some are hard to find on amazon. My apologies if I linked to any books that cost hundreds of dollars. It’s past my bedtime.