When I thought of having children, the picture I had in my head was me reading books to them. Most often, it was snuggled up in bed, sometimes it was on a blanket under a tree on a fall day, sometimes it was in a big chair near a sunny window. Usually, in my mind, I’d be reading one of the books I’d loved as a kid: Curious George, Harry the Dirty Dog, A Bargain for Frances, Madeline, Babar.
The reality has been different—isn’t it always? Usually one child is doing something to compete with the story, creating his or her own activity, and distracting the other two. Everyone is vying for a good position. There are only two spaces next to the reader: one to the left, one to the right. As is nearly always the case with triplets, there’s an odd-man-out.
When I am able to get everyone settled in and find an acceptable spot for the third child, we read those books that I’d imagined reading long ago, but that’s not what’s brought the real joy. The real joy has come from rediscovering books that I’d forgotten about long ago, and exploring the new books that are as good as any I’d read growing up.
The long-forgotten books start out as fog. I see them in a bookstore and something about the front cover feels like a dream I once had. The familiarity gets stronger, and then a memory is born. Bits and pieces of a story come to the front of my mind. Yes, this is a book that I’d once loved that got left behind.
The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes came to me this way. I saw the cover in a store and it stopped me. I picked it up and soon I had three children around me saying, “Do you know it, Mom? We love that one. We read it at school.” I didn’t know whether I knew it or not, but as I thumbed through it, the answer became, “yes.” The book shows the original copyright as 1939, with a renewed copyright in 1967. As I read through the book, it astounded me more and more. Have women been feeling the struggle of raising a family with having a profession as long ago as 1939? This book tends to go onto the featured display at bookstores around Easter. It should come out in May, during graduation season, and it should be displayed in the adult section.
It turns out that my family and my husband’s family must have belonged to the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club at the same time. One day at my mother-in-law’s, when scouring the closets for an activity for the children, I found The Bear Scouts and Mr. Biddle and the Birds. First they were just foggy dreams, then pages turned and memories were formed.
How did I make it through childhood without ever reading The Giving Tree? I’m thinking because it wasn’t part of the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I believe The Giving Tree will be to my children what Madeline was for me. They mention it when we are under an apple tree. They still ask for it, even though they would be considered too old for it. Somehow I missed Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, too, but I’m making up for it this second time around at children’s stories.
While those two books are literary classics, sometimes a book becomes a classic in a family for no particular reason except that it does. Funny Farm has become that for us. It’s an uncomplicated plot that continues to interest readers of all types of literature: what can go wrong when city dwellers intermingle with country folk?
After we have children, do we continue to imagine the parenting experiences that still await us? Or is life too hectic to continue those dreams? Most days, all the space for dreaming about our children is taken up by raising our children. Still, I have found a bit of space. I dream about reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe together, maybe with children that are a bit more mature and not paying so much attention to each other and worried about vying for space. Then, I dream about the books they will love that I know nothing about but will discover with them.