As a parent, I am excited about this because I believe reading is a vitally important discipline that must be taught early to children, as well as learned early by them. However, reading to my kids has caused me to exhume some long ago, buried bones from my early elementary school education.
I was a slow reader. I also lacked the confidence to read out loud in class. I think I may have received a “U” for “unsatisfactory” on my report card up until 3rd grade. It wasn’t that I didn’t comprehend reading, I just read slow because I liked to savor what I was reading and the thought of people listening to me read out loud was to me like kryptonite to Superman. Moreover, if the reading was accompanied by pictures, I would linger even longer over my reading and completely zone out from what was happening immediately around me in the class room. This was especially true if those pictures were snakes, lizards, dinosaurs, and Bigfoot.
I remember once in second grade, our teacher had the class pass around a picture encyclopedia to show us an elephant. This particular book was “D-E” and when it came to me, I accidentally flipped to the “D” section and found the “dinosaurs.” I sat transfixed at the pictures of the tyrannosaurus rex fighting a triceratops. After ten minutes of me gazing at what I believed to be one of the most glorious spectacles I had ever seen, our teacher asks, “What happened to the book?” Shelia Stewart, who sat next to me, shot up her hand and proclaimed in a loud voice, “Freddy has it and he’s looking at the dinosaurs, not the elephants!”
Shelia Stewart was one those prissy girls who lived for being a teacher’s pet, and from my vantage point, a large portion of her self-appointed position was to inform our teachers (and our class) when I lagged behind in my academic skills, especially my reading.
For example, again in 2nd grade, our teacher would break the class up into reading tables and number the tables 1-8 with #1 being next to her and #8 toward the back of the room. The goal was to move up to the # 1 table depending on how well a student read out loud before the entire class room. So, if a kid was sitting at the #4 table and he or she read the assigned sentence well, the kid moved up to the #3 table and continued until he or she moved up to the honored #1 table. The kids already sitting at the #1 table had to defend their spot and if any of them messed up, that kid was sent back to the #8 table and started to process over.
The real cool, popular kids always sat at the #1 table, where as all the class misfits sat at the #8 table. For some reason, on this particular day, our teacher started me out at the #1 table and I couldn’t had been more excited and nervous all at the same time. It mainly had to do with the company I was keeping. There was Brent and Sean, the playground sports stars, and then Elizabeth, Julie, and Angela, the school supermodels, and then me, and Shelia Stewart.
The class read through one story and some of the kids at the #2-#7 tables moved up or stayed where they were. Then we came to the second story called “Little Dog Lost” about a Scottish terrier who gets lost in a park. The teacher says, “Freddy, please read the name of the story.” I sat up straight in my seat and with all the firm confidence of an 8 year old, said loud and clear,
“Little Dog Loosted”
Silence filled the room. All that I could hear was Shelia Stewart’s heavy, audible sigh. I will never forget the soul crushing words that came from my teacher, “Oh, I’m sorry Freddy, that’s wrong” and then the final blow still echoes in my ears to this day:
Go to the back table… back table… back table… back table… back table…
As I got up from my seat, Shelia leans over to Julie and whispers, “Freddy can’t read.” I hung my head and shuffled toward the back table, the “zip-zup, zip-zup” of my brown garanimals corduroy pants cruelly mocking me as I went.
As I sat down, across from me sat Michael, who was drawing crude tattoos on his arm with a green, ball point pen. Next to him was Ronald carving up a pink eraser with a pocket knife. To my left was Davina, who was always giggling at the most inappropriate times, giggling at me, and Gilbert sat to my right. Gilbert was the only 8 year old I knew who smoked. He turned to me and says in a raspy, Larry King like voice, “How yah doin’.”
Sorry about that. I was having a flashback.
At any rate, we have exposed our children to many fine books and for the sake of the cathartic story I told above, I thought I would share with you all our top ten most requested books.
So here are the Butler family’s favorite books in no particular order.
Owl Moon – Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
The story of a dad taking his young daughter on her first owling hike on a full moon night in the woods of Connecticut. The water color illustrations are exceptional and really bring this sweet story alive.
Good Night Moon – Margret Wise Brown, illustrations by Clement Hurd
My boys absolutely adored this book when they were first able to sit on our laps and have us read it. They particularly loved finding the mouse in each frame. I am thankful they are too young now to be effected by the New York Times scandal concerning the illustrator, Clement Hurd, surrounding old photographs of him smoking and the anti-smoking, hand-wringing busy-bodies photoshopping out the cigarettes in his hand.
Anthony Gets Ready for Church – Mary M. Landis
This is a Mennonite book written and drawn for Mennonite kids. The mother in the book, for example, has the standard Mennonite “nursing” outfit on. When we ordered books from the Staff and Rod ministries, the fine folks included a set of free tracts promoting pacifism with our purchase. I laughed. Regardless, my boys love the simple story of young Anthony cleaning himself up and getting himself dressed for a Church service.
The Waterhole – Graeme Base
Graeme Base’s books are pretty awesome. Not only is he a superb illustrator, but his pictures contain hidden pictures within them. So, for example with The Waterhole, you learn to count to ten with the animals from around the world, but also camouflaged with in the picture, in a Bev Doolittle style, are ten other animals native to whatever area of the world is being considered.
Cleverly drawn and well illustrated book explaining why you cannot hide strawberries from bears.
The Doorbell Rang – Pat Hutchins
With each ring of the door bell, a new group of kids arrive for a visit, thus diminishing the number of cookies each child can have to eat. I just wouldn’t answer the door.
That’s Good, That’s Bad – Margery Cuyler, illustrations by Davit Catrow
A series of serendipitous events that appear good on the one hand, yet bad on the other, brings a boy lost at the animal park back to his parents.
Peet was one of the original storyboarders and animators for Disney back when they did cell-cartoons. He eventually took his talent to writing and illustrating children’s books. Old Smokey is a train engine who escapes his junk yard demise. The fact that it is about trains is enough to entertain my boys. I happen to like the political incorrect section about a group of whooping Indians who “misread” his smoke “signals” and give chase after him.
Chrysanthemum – Kevin Henkes
A little girl grows up loving her first name, Chrysanthemum, until her first day of school when all of her classmates inform her that she is named after a flower which lives in dirt and it contains 13 letters, half the letters of the alphabet.
Old Bear – Jane Hissey
The friends of old bear devise a scheme to release him from his attic confines.