Wizards, Wolves & Whangdoodles
I blame P.D. Eastman for my addiction. It all started with Go Dog Go. That was the first book that I read completely by myself. I can still remember the feeling of satisfaction as I sounded out the final words! I rushed to the kitchen where my mom was preparing dinner and read the entire thing from start to finish for her. Then, I went to the front step to wait for my dad to arrive home from work so I could share my newly discovered skill. The rest, as they say, is history.
I began to read everything I could get my hands on, burning up my library card – Dr. Seuss, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad collection, Russell Hoban’s Frances books, the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik, and Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish. Madeline, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and Curious George. You name it; I devoured it.
My sister was the same way. She could read chapter books in single sittings, while I took a little longer. Yet, reading and books became common ground for us. Many days would find us lounging around, only moving to turn a page or flip from stomach to back.
As we got older, the genre changed, as it must. Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Blubber turned into Deenie, Forever and sneaking Wifey from my mom’s bedside table. We quickly dove into adult fiction because let’s face it. We would never dream of carrying our favorite children’s books around. We were too cool for that. Despite being in high school, we would much rather be seen toting the latest Danielle Steele novel than a book written for teenagers. We left our childhood stories behind and never looked back.
Some time in my late 20s, when I was feeling lost and stressed and for the first time in my life, no book seemed to hold my attention, I ventured to Barnes and Noble for some retail therapy. Bookstores and libraries are like my church. They are places where there is a respectful hush, places where I feel awe and wonder as I walk through shelves filled with greatness.
On this particular trip, I had no books in mind, and I found myself wondering into the children’s fiction area. There was a story hour going on, and an employee was reading one of my old favorites to a small group of preschoolers. I found myself lingering amid the colorful displays and knee-high chairs just to hear the adventures unfold again. It was then that I knew that the books I was seeking that day would be found in this section.
I wondered through the shelves and pulled out one book after another, stories I remember reading a million times over. By the time I reached the check-out counter, I had stockpiled over $100 worth of children’s books and was smiling from ear to ear.
Since then, I have filled entire rooms of my house with fiction written for children and young adults. I collection that began with books that I remembered from my own childhood grew to include new authors as well. Julie Edward’s The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase and E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler now stand cover to cover with young adult fantasies by Dianna Wynne Jones and Donna Jo Napoli, Garth Nix and Gail Carson Levine.
My husband jokes that he can always tell when I am stressed at work, because I will put away my adult fiction, where some days it seems that every plot stems from the headlines. He will find me snuggled up on the couch with a cat or three and my nose stuck in a book about wizards or warrior mice that live in an abbey. Here I can be lost for hours or days in a world so unlike my own, where magic happens on a grand scale and surprises are found around every corner.
If you have not picked up a children’s book since you were under the age of 12, I highly recommend you try it again. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series will make you long for a muggle scholarship to Hogwarts, and The Redwall series by the late Brian Jacques will make you look at tree stumps and rock walls and wonder what worlds they hide from our adult human view.