Old books. Really old books. I love the feel of them, the musty, dusty smell of them. My great-grandmother had books like this and I journeyed inside their pages every time I visited her, lost in magical places for hours.
This love of old books is something I share with my daughter and granddaughters. We relish roaming around used bookstores and delight in finding rare or hard-to-find editions of best-loved titles.
While visiting my daughter and granddaughters recently, I was looking in one granddaughter's room for a couple of old favorites I would like to share with my son's little ones. Lo and behold, as I was searching I found one of my old childhood books I must have loaned to my daughter to read to her girls when they were young. Memories came flooding back as I leafed through the dilapidated pages of My Picture Story Book: a Collection of Objects, Mother Goose Rhymes, Animal Stories (edited by Watty Piper, illustrated by Eulalie, Becker and Scott, and published by The Platt & Munk Co., with copyright dates of 1937 & 1941). This old treasure was quite obviously a childhood favorite of mine and my siblings. Its pages are worn, torn and taped together, soiled, marked and drawn on, bound and rebound and falling apart at the seams. My, how the three of us must have adored this book!
I can distinctly remember sitting on my mother's lap as she read this book to me over and over. The book is laid out in three sections: familiar objects for a young one to learn by pictures and matching words; nursery rhymes for early readers; and animal stories for older children. I don't recall the first section nearly as much as I do the other two. But by the markings in the book, it is clear that by underlining words we were learning them. Also, we associated words with their corresponding illustrations by drawing lines from one to the other. My siblings and I might have even pretended at playing teacher and student, too, grading one another with the words OK and DON'T KNOW scrawled on a few of the pages.
As I got older, I found solace in reading alone. And although I'm sure my parents read nursery rhymes to me, as soon as I could read on my own I memorized nearly every one of these rhymes and can recite most of them today.
The last third of the book must have been my favorite once I learned to read well, for herein are the animal stories. Apparently, I was quite territorial with this section because I printed my name in my young hand at the beginning of the chapter for each and every animal. I found KIM scribbled 19 times! My siblings must not have cared as much to "own" these pages, for I found their names printed only twice.
The animal story in this section of the book that made me go "Awwwwww!" as I reminisced is about the wire-haired fox terrier. Perusing those pages makes me wonder if reading this story to us is where my dad's love for that breed began, for the very first pups we had as children were, indeed, fox terriers.
I do not condone writing in books, but in this case I am more forgiving. Looking at our scribbles and scrawls, we must have thought this was also a coloring book. If my parents tried to stop us from writing in it, I'm glad their attempts failed. All these childish markings make the book that much sweeter. And the fact my parents cared enough to tape it and re-bind it tells me how much they appreciated that the whole family loved this book. We were obviously allowed to read it and use it as we saw fit. Perhaps every child should have a book like that: One they can color in, play school with, recite poetry from, and read together or alone.
We can't keep every book we ever owned or we book lovers would be overrun and out of room in our homes very soon. Believe me, I know. I do beg of you, gentle readers, to consider always keeping special books, those that are 1) inscribed - these are gifts from someone who cared enough to give it to you or your children; 2) absolute favorites - children's and adults: 3) classics - both children's and adults; 4) out of print - you'll be glad you don't have to pay the out-of-print or rare book price.
Hanging in my oldest granddaughter's room is a poster with the following quote from Julia Donaldson that she has memorized because it speaks to who we are as a family of readers and lovers of books:
“I opened a book and in I strode.
Now nobody can find me.
I've left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.
I'm wearing the cloak, I've slipped on the ring,
I've swallowed the magic potion.
I've fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.
I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.
I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.”
Who wouldn't want to delve into the pages of a book after reading that last line? Here's wishing all of you many wondrous adventures as you find the books inside you! And remember, as Grampy always says,
P.S.: By the way, this edition of the book is now available online from rare and out-of-print websites anywhere from $28 to $75!!! This is why I say hold on to those childhood favorites! It is also available from Amazon for a whole lot less, just to let you know. But as soon as they're gone, that's it.