I am nestled in my mother’s arms in a living room chair. As I listen to Cinderella and The Brave Little Tailor, my two favorites from the Little Golden Books collection, her lap feels different. My four and a half year status as the youngest Cohen is coming to a close. Soon, my mother will be busy with the new baby. Not long after that, I would be reading on my own. At that moment, however, with my two older siblings at school, I am wrapped up in undivided love.
As a lifetime bookworm, it is no surprise that one of my earliest memories involves my mother reading to me. When Larry and I became parents, we wanted to create these same memories.
Adam’s first favorite was also from the Little Golden Books collection. Corky, written by Patricia Scarry, is the story of a little black dog whose contentious relationship with his boy’s favorite teddy bear is redeemed when he finds the lost lovely. We read and re-read that little book until it was held together with scotch tape, hope, and a prayer. Corduroy, Don Freeman’s classic about nocturnal adventures of a shopworn teddy bear’s search for his missing button in a locked department store, became his second choice before lights out.
When we discovered Go Dog Go, Larry morphed into the master story teller. As Adam sat transfixed, Larry emoted each line of P. D. Eastman’s story about a group of highly mobile dogs who operate every conceivable conveyance in pursuit of work, play, and their final mysterious goal SPOILER ALERT a dog party! Larry’s rendition of “Do you like my hat?” is etched into my auditory memory.His asides—“That’s so silly!” and “ Maybe they are going to the tree to pee?”—kept Adam and, later, Julie entertained for hours. Even today, whenever I see a several canines playing together—a very common site in Colorado—I repeat Eastman’s lines to anyone who will listen: “Big dogs and little dogs and white dogs and black dogs……
When both children graduated from picture books, Larry and I moved onto chapter books. When Julie was in first grade, I introduced to her Anne of Green Gables. She so loved L.M..Montgomery’s classic story of a Prince Edward Island orphan that she was reading it on her own by the next year. Her original paperback collection now has a place of honor on her daughter’s book shelf.
The chapter books saga continued on a six hour trip from our home in Upstate New York to our Thanksgiving visit to my siblings in Pennsylvania. The miles flew by as we laughed and commiserated over Peter Hatcher’s attempts at dealing with his little brother Fudge in Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series soon followed. We supplemented our own voices with books-on-tape, leading to Adam’s discovery and lifetime love of J. R. R. Tolkien.
The first Harry Potter came out in 2003, years after we stopped reading to our children. Three years later, Larry, Adam, and Julie caravanned cross country in two cars. Julie had J. W. Rowling’s latest on cassettes, and the two siblings listened together, often leaving Larry to drive solo. They finished in time for her to peel off in Colorado and for Larry and Adam to drive—Potterless—to California.
And then came grandchildren, and this Gammy was glad to read our Mountain Girl classics that she had read to her mother and uncle. She soon had her own copies of Corky, Corduroy, and Cinderella. Zayde gladly read her Go Dog Go, complete with asides and exaggerated , emotive expositions.
By 2015, a new group of classics had appeared on the scene. I, even more than our Mountain Girl, fell in love with William Stieg’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. I teared up every time the little donkey, who had accidentally turned himself into a rock, reappears as himself and knows that no desire is more important than a family’s love. Since my college Kiddie Lit course, I had loved the illustrations of Paul Zelinsky and purchased several of his books so I could share the artwork with my granddaughter. After reading, Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama Red Pajama, I stopped some potential tantrums by laughing requesting that she stop her “llama drama.”
During the pandemic, we were unable to see Mountain Girl in person for over 14 months. Thank goodness for FaceTime! Ever since she was three years old, Zayde had spent hours telling his granddaughter his creative stories about an entire cast of denizens of the forest, including the Big Bad Wolf, his wife Wendy and their triplets; the mayor of the forest Morty Moose and his wife Marion; and an imported Florida alligator named Allie. The Mountain Girl connected with Zayde on social media for up to four to five hours a week to hear his increasingly outlandish tales. When Larry’s voice gave out, I took over with either library or purchased book, culminating in my reading and then re-reading to her the entire Ramona/Beezus collection.
Our San Francisco Kid was born the week the pandemic closed down his city. By the time he was two, he was fully engaged in playing with, watching, wearing, and reading anything about trucks. Go Dog Go was an early favorite as Eastman’s dogs were illustrated in every mode of transportation. Then he discovered Richard Scarry’s Cars, Trucks, and Things That Go. During our recent visit, we watched as he pored over the pictures with the fervor of a Yeshiva student pouring over his tractates. When I learned that a tiny goldbug was hidden on each page, I became obsessed with finding them. I then passed that obsession onto my grandson. “Goldbug!” he would shout when we located one, and we would slap each other five. A week after we left, Adam reported that his son had mastered finding the goldbug on every page, each discovery accompanied by “Goldbug!” and high five.
As our second granddaughter was born seven weeks prematurely this past spring, she is obviously a long way away from understanding the power of reading. As she was named after my mother, I will be supplying her with all the books in Russell Hoban’s Frances the Badger series.The stories have no trucks, but hopefully her big brother will like them anyway.
This past week, our Mountain Girl celebrated her seventh birthday. As Uncle Adam and Aunt Sarah watched on FaceTime, she unwrapped their presents, two classic trilogies. Lord of the Rings was Adam’s obvious choice. His Dark Materials was Julie’s suggestion for Phillip Pullman’s strong female protagonist. After everyone signed off, our Colorado family cracked open Tolkien, our San Francisco family searched for Scarry’s Goldbug, and Gammy and Zayde kvelled that the joys of reading to children aloud—whether it be Golden books or Go Dog Go or goldbugs–continues,
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.