While my husband and I met in a very unique way — a story that could fill this page very easily — we won each other’s hearts with books that were significant to us in our childhood. I must have mentioned at one moment during our courtship that I loved P.D. Eastman’s Go Dog, Go! as a child and wished I still had the book; he bought and inscribed a copy and gave it to me on closing night of the show we were both performing in.
We spent one very warm summer living in the cool basement of our rental duplex reading to each other from the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. We discussed his affinity for the Mad Scientist’s Club and any book by Gary Paulsen; and how I had read Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp a thousand and one times (if my husband wants to get a rise out of me, he will say, “Jane-Emily is a terrible book”).
What is it about the books of our youth that resonates so deeply when we are adults? There will soon be young adults, sobbing in movie theaters throughout the country as the last of the Harry Potter books come to life, getting tattoos with the symbol of the Deathly Hallows on various body parts — because for many, the end of this series also signifies the end of their childhoods.
I’m concerned about iPads, and how they will take a bite out of the print industry, but even more, that today’s kids won’t grow to love books the way I did — and I’m not just talking about the story; I’m talking about the experience, the satisfying weight, the smell of the pages, the small thump of the back cover closing.
I gave my nephew one of the recommended books in Alyson Cummings’ article beginning on page 11. Ben called me, laughing out loud as he spoke — he could hardly choke the words out: “Auntie Kathy, that was the funniest book I ever read! I love it!” My brother, later, said, “I have read it to him about 100 times already.” He rolled his eyes and grinned, giving me that, “Thanks a lot, Sis” kind-of look. There is nothing better than giving someone a book that becomes meaningful.
And so we move through our lives, with stories being read to our babies in utero, picture books gnawed on, toddler books thrown across the room, and early reader books coming home in stacks, and then lost under the bed or chewed by the dog. Your kids grow up, and they will think about the books that shaped their way of thinking. Maybe Ben will hang onto “Monkey & Elephant” in the same way I have Jane-Emily and The Pigman in a prominent place on my bookshelf. I hope so, because that part when Monkey painted a face on Elephant’s behind is pretty great.