A Child’s Garden of Verses

I stood somewhat blearily, staring around what I assumed might still be my house, somewhere under there, and wondered: “Is there anything good about having an entire family subject to a violent stomach virus at the same time?”  After some thought, it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually cooked a meal in a few days.  Yeah, I like cooking, but since the thought of food made me– excuse me, where’s the washroom?  And the smell of food– sorry, gotta run.  And if I’d had to cook for anyone else– oh, gosh, give me a sec.  Point is, when all of us had the same feelings about food, it was just as well that we could leave the kitchen to its own devices while we spent our limited energy on the laundry.  (Open House Announcement: Come Over And Throw In A Load!)

Being who I am, of course, the other upside to what we’ll romantically call “my illness” (barf, barf, barf) was a wave of nostalgia which rose as the tide of nausea began to recede.  “Nostalgia for what, precisely?” I hear you ask nervously.  No, no, not for barf– I’ll leave that particular brand of nostalgia to my parents (sorry, Mummy and Daddy).  The nostalgia I feel is for, well, for R. L. Stevenson’s childhood frailty, when you come right down to it.

Did you grow up with A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson from Chronicle Books?  If not, are you aware that you need to go to your parents and school teachers and sit them down and tell them that while you know they meant only the best for you, you’re very sorry to say that you think they committed a serious parenting and educational flaw?  Because this is one of those books that I give to new parents like other people give– wait, what do other people give?  I think people gave us clothes and things.  Someone gave us a diaper pail but we already had one and, frankly, even the most, erm, digestively-active baby only needs the one and trust me I have experience after this weekend… but I think I’ve cycled back around here, just like Friday night’s meal did– gosh, sorry, folks.  Let’s make up for it with the lovely cover:

A Child's Garden of Verses

The point, and, vaguely delirious though I might be at the moment, I do have one, is this: when I was growing up, I had one picture of illness in my head.  Go and fetch your copy of A Child’d Garden of Verses— the Chronicle Books one, mind you, I don’t even know why that other one is on your shelf, do you?  If you don’t own it (see note above regarding parenting flaws), click on that link above and order it, or go to your local bookstore and make sure that they know to stock it for just such emergencies.  Your local library should also have a copy, so you’re now entirely devoid of excuses.  OK, now open it to pp. 28-29, “The Land of Counterpane.”  We can all pause for a moment to choke up together.  That is what illness, or at least convalescence, looks like to me, and that’s what I mean by feeling nostalgia for Stevenson’s childhood frailty.

I know, I know– heck, we all know: actual, real-life sickness looks like several loads of stinky laundry, sleepless nights and half-hour naps during the day, and electing just to not wash your hair tonight because, hell, there’s only a few more hours before dawn anyway and she’s just going to barf again tomorrow, so may as well try to sleep now and wash it out tomorrow, right?  (Sorry, everyone, really, so sorry– I promise I do bathe regularly at ordinary times.)  Actual, real-life sickness looks like losing count of how many times any of you threw up (we’ll go with a nice, discreet “several times, I believe”) and figuring out how to unstick a frozen window on the coldest night of winter so far because, by God, it was necessary, all right?  That’s what sickness looks like, feels, like… smells like.

But don’t we all, just every once in a while, feel a tinge of nostalgia for a nice romantic “illness,” or, well for convalescence, that period after the worst of it but before you’re fit for the real world again?  Don’t you sometimes whisper, “Dammit, I could use a sick day… like when I was a kid and someone just looked after me.”  You’re not thinking, “Oh, I wish I could barf six or seven times in a row, I can’t remember what number I’m up to.”  You’re thinking about nice, cuddly things, right?  Maybe an extra pillow or a fluffy blanket.  Well, what I remember is my mother’s voice reading me “The Land of Counterpane.”  I know we read plenty of other poems from this book, and I know we read them at ordinary bedtimes or ordinary days.  I also know it was one of the books I sometimes sort of snuck from the high shelf to just look at the pictures and touch it even though I was supposed to make sure it stayed really nice and clean because it was one of the books my mother really liked (sorry, Mummy, I was really bad at leaving your nice books alone, and I totally get it now that the Changeling’s around).  But when I look at my copy, I remember delicate, watercolour-like childhood convalescence, the kind that never really happened, but that we all experienced for just that moment when your mother’s nearby, and her voice is reading to you quietly while you sip something you don’t normally get, especially in the middle of the day (juice or Coke or that elusive “just something nice”), and you’re contemplating the possibility of a nap, or maybe, maybe you can get another story first?

Now I read these poems (“poemos,” she calls them, in toddler-lingo) to the Changeling.  I read them when she’s well, I read them when she’s sick, I read them when she’s tired, I read them when she’s alert.  I read them in Aruba, I read them in Toronto, I read them in Boston.  These get read all the time.  I never tire of them, and neither does she.  She flips to exactly the pages she wants: “Rain,” or “Read me ‘Nod.'”  Or whichever she wants.  The Changeling knows them well, and she makes her own choices.  Sometimes she bargains for another one: “We’ll read just two, OK?”  Then: “How about one more?”  And I have no idea how she’ll come to remember them– maybe when she’s on the swing, or maybe when she’s looking at the stars.  Whichever of dozens of perfect childhood moments that maybe didn’t really happen, but which we all experienced in that one, crystalline second at the top of a swing, or when the wind caught your breath, or when you’re propped up against a pillow with your mother beside you… those moments which Stevenson captures with a perfection which brings you peace, even when you’re going to throw in yet another load of laundry.

(If anyone’s going to the store, could you grab me another thing of detergent, please?  We’re almost out.)

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Moominland Midwinter

It’s cold today.  That means I’m getting nostalgic.  One winter way back in the antediluvian days of my childhood my sister found a book, read it, and gave it to me.  This was not an unusual event, but this is a book that stuck with us both even though no one else seemed to have read it: there was a creature called a Moomin who woke up from hibernation in winter, we remembered.  We liked it a lot.  And it didn’t feel like a kids’ book, precisely.  Somehow the book disappeared soon after that (that’s one of the annoying things about having a lot of books– sometimes one gets lost in the shuffle), but since I always hate stories that leave the reader fretting about what’s going to happen next I’ll let you in on the secret right now: I did find it again, and it was called Moominland Midwinter, written and illustrated by Tove Jansson, and ultimately I was to read it with the Changeling, who also liked it.  There, now you’re set and can read on with assurance.  It’s a happy ending.

Moominland Midwinter

The years passed, I moved to Boston, got married, and got pregnant, and found the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline.  I walked in, and they had Moomin pictures on the wall.  I knew I’d like this place.  They had Moomin books on the shelves.  I fell in love.  And I, well, I bought them all because, you know, would you want to bring a new baby into a house with insufficient Moomin books?  Of course you wouldn’t, that would be irresponsible parenting, right?  Right.  I’m so glad we agree on these points.  Also, don’t you agree that all obstetricians should be located right near well-curated children’s book shops, and, if they are, that’s obviously a sign that all visits to the obstetrician should be followed by trips to the book store?  You do?  Why, I knew we’d get along!

Well, thus began my annual impulse to reread Moominland Midwinter whenever the weather got very, very cold or I hit the first big snow.  When very wintery weather hits I start to think about the Moomin family, sleeping away the winter in their house in Moominvalley, and Moomintroll’s eyes opening to the dark, snowed-in parlour.  I think about the winter creatures he meets, the Lady of the Cold, and his growing friendship with Too-ticky.  I think about his initial fear of winter, and his growing comfort with that alien world of snow and darkness.  I hear Too-ticky’s patient voice in my head saying, “Take it easy,” and then I hunt up the book wherever it’s migrated to since last year.  (I honestly try to organize my books, but they move around anyway.  It’s hopeless.)

And so this year it finally got snowy and cold, and I curled up and opened my book.  Then a head of slightly tousled curls popped up.  “What’s that book?”  “It’s called Moominland Midwinter.”  There was a scramble and then someone was on my lap and the curls were tickling my nose.  “Read it to me.”  I thought for a moment, because Moominland Midwinter is really not aimed at toddlers, but it goes against my principles not to read to children when asked to do so, and, besides, the worst that could happen would be that the Changeling would scramble down again, so where was the harm?  And, most of all, I was curious to see how the book would work when read aloud.

Well, what do you know?  It’s a beautiful book to read aloud.  The occasional pictures act as little landmarks for small children, or just points to engage them (“Start here, with Little My.”), and you’d better be prepared to get a small foot lodged between your ribs whenever one of Tove Jansson’s brilliant drawings pops up and someone shouts out “oh, is that Too-ticky?”  And all those character voices you’ve been hearing in your head as you read to yourself?  It turns out they’re really fun to say aloud.

As I’d expected, the conversations are perfectly paced and sing along.  What I’d been more concerned about were the paragraphs of meditation, poetry, or simply exposition in between those conversations.  To my surprise, they engaged the Changeling almost as much as the conversations.  Perhaps it was because they’re accompanied by those little illustrations which show what’s going on, but I’d also credit the pace and rhythm of the prose.  The meditations can be quite lyrical and lovely.  Try reading this aloud, for example:

“One flake after the other landed on his warm nose and melted away.  He caught several in his paw to admire them for a fleeting moment; he looked toward the sky and saw them sinking down straight at him, more and more, softer and lighter than bird’s down.”  (Moominland Midwinter, pp. 95-6.)

Exposition moves in its own way: rapid and clever, or in almost philosophical detail, depending on what the characters and plot demand.  Always, it’s fun to share aloud.

How did the Changeling take to it?  I asked her, because I was still a bit surprised that she’d sat through it, one chapter a night, and wondered how much she’d taken in.  She loved the characters, and told me she particularly liked Too-ticky (“Too-ticky says ‘take it easy!'”), Little My, and Moominmamma.  But what do I think really clicked with her?  Well, it’s winter right now, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels the seasonal appeal.

This morning it was really cold, and I was trying to get the Changeling’s mittens on (I feel a great rustling across the world, as though millions of mothers suddenly dropped their heads into their hands and moaned in recognition).  I was trying to get across that it wasn’t just chilly, it was cold, and she really needs her mittens today, and an idea popped into my head: “Do you remember in Moominland Midwinter when the Lady of the Cold comes?”  “Oh, yes.”  “Well, it’s a cold like that today.  A big cold­.  That’s why you need your mittens.”  I won’t say she didn’t grumble, but there was a definite click, and those mittens did go on.

Moominland Midwinter, as I said at the beginning, really doesn’t feel to me like a kid’s book.  It didn’t when I first read it, years ago, and it doesn’t now.  It’s a seasonal book, a winter book, and it’s there for anyone who’s ready to just tumble through into winter.  It distills winter, it shares winter, it talks with you about cold and snow, blizzards and ice, and about that first moment at winter’s end when the wind changes and you sniff the hint of the beginning of spring.  The Changeling might be a toddler, but she’s a toddler who’s learning all about winter, and Tove Jansson is talking to her, too, through all her voices of winter: Too-ticky, Little My, and Moomintroll and Moominmamma, too, who are just discovering it along with us.  If you’re feeling wintery, bundle up in your warmest clothes, head over to the bookstore (look near your obstetrician’s office, you may find a great one) and ask for Moominland Midwinter.

The Queen’s Hat

When my parents came back from a visit to England, they brought my daughter a very silly book.  A charmingly, absurdly, delightfully silly book.  I love my parents, and the Changeling, my husband, and I all love giggling through The Queen’s Hat, written and illustrated by Steve Antony.

The Queen's Hat

Here’s the story: it’s a sweet little tribute to the birth of Prince George, as the Queen puts on her favourite hat to pay him a visit, but the wind sweeps the hat off her head and she has to chase it all through London until it falls right onto the new baby prince.  Celebratory tribute?  Yes, all right and, as such, it’s a nice book.  But what makes it something more than that is its whimsy.  It’s also a gleeful, unabashed romp through all the top spots in London.  It’s fun, that’s it, and it doesn’t try to be anything other than pure, whimsical, giggly fun.  It’s like running through the sprinklers while eating cotton candy, and I love it.

So, what makes it so much fun?  Well, like Swan, the text is spare and the illustrations are packed.  In this case, though, the text is there to give you fun sound effects: “Swish!  Woosh!” and drag you recklessly all through London: “and all through… London Zoo… and all along…”  If you’re like us, your kid will have no idea about most of these places (although it’s a nice intro to them, I guess), but you’ll get a little rush of glee when you see the lions at Trafalgar Square or flip the book to accommodate the length of Big Ben.

The fun really comes with the sound effects and the pictures, though.  The illustrations are energetic but spare, with a muted background and brightly limited palate for the foreground.  Each page has little details to watch out for: the Queen’s men help in the pursuit, but lose hats and shoes along the way.  Can you find the sock?  A servant joins the chase, bearing a tea tray which remains miraculously intact throughout– where is he on each page?  The Queen is accompanied by a corgi!  Can you find him?  What’s he wearing?  Do you like dogs, too?  And so on.  These keep you busy hunting, page by page.

The Changeling and I enjoy this book at almost exactly the same level, which is a genuine pleasure: sure, I have a better knowledge of London and I know the backstory, such as it is, to the book.  But, in the end, that’s not where the book’s success really comes from.  It comes from energy, detail, and all the opportunities to gleefully hunt through the book together.  Her favourite page is London Zoo, where she finds and names as many animals as she can: “Pelican!  Let’s find the puffin.  Is that a tiger?”  And on most other pages she gets excited about finding the hat and the corgi.  The end of the hunt, for her, is finding the baby and touching his fingers.

This isn’t a deep or brilliant book, but that’s exactly where its brilliance lies: it knows where to stop.  Too much more about the Royals would have resulted in dull pandering.  Too much more of a story would have been boring.  Steve Antony hit precisely the right balance of landmarks for the adults and treasure hunt for the family, and that’s what makes this book such a fun little adventure, just like a spontaneous Sunday trip to the ice cream parlour.  Have fun!

Madlenka’s Dog

I’ve known ever since I started writing here that I really, really wanted to talk about Peter Sís.  The only question was where to start?  Which book?  I pulled them all off the shelf and pondered the feast before me.  Ice Cream Summer makes me giddy just to look at it, and that’s the latest, too, so it has that going for it.  Starry Messenger was one of the early ones, the art is extraordinary, and it’s positively inspirational.  I think the first one of his I saw was The Pilot and the Little Prince, and that remains a favourite.  I finally picked up the most battered, though: the one which has been hugged, read by every person in this house over and over, which has dried tears and elicited giggles out of the depths of sadness and exhaustion (both the toddler’s and the adults’!), which has been lost and found more times than I can count, and gotten tangled in bedclothes bedtime after bedtime.  In other words, this book has gotten accolades higher than the Pulitzer, Booker, Newbery, Caldecott, and Nobel Prize for Literature combined: Madlenka’s Dog, written and illustrated by Peter Sís, has won love.

Madlenka's Dog.jpg

The Changeling and I found this book at our natural home in Boston, the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline.  It turns out that the owner is friendly with Peter Sís (he did all the lovely artwork for their website, and for a poster for the store), and she definitely shared her excitement about his work with us: almost all of our Sís books have come from there. I’m pretty sure this is one of the books which the Changeling had to carry with her out of the store, into the car, and hold the whole way home.  I don’t mind: it means she’s less likely to get carsick.  (Odd, isn’t it?  If I read in the car: beware, beware!  If she has a book, it’s all clear.  Maybe it’s because she can’t read yet?)  Please forgive that ever so slightly tasteless digression; the point is that Madlenka’s Dog was instantly engrossing.

What’s interesting is that, in many ways, this is the simplest of books: a girl named Madlenka wants a dog.  That’s it, really.  So what makes it so engrossing?

Well, for one thing, whether or not you specifically want a dog (maybe you want a cat, or a particularly beautiful book, or your own house, or just someone to love…) who among us doesn’t want something?  Maybe, speaking to adults who shuffle their feet and mumble, “It’s not so bad, really, I mean, I’d like a dog one day, but I can cope,” a better word to use is “longing.”  I’m sure there’s something you long for– and so does Madlenka, and so does your child, if you have one.  This isn’t What Pet Should I Get? (not meant critically– the Changeling enjoys that book, too), which is about the excitement of choosing an animal.  No, this is an exploration of the universal longing for that one thing you love deep in your gut.

Let’s start with that word “universal.”  Both my husband I were particularly hooked by the opening to this book: “In the universe, on a planet…”  That’s right: this book about a girl who wants a dog starts by a little meditation on the cosmos.  (Honestly, that’s the only reason I feel justified in plunging into the serious analytics here; Peter Sís totally started it, dude, OK?)  Before bringing us specifically to the girl named Madlenka, we start with the most general of the general.  Even when we do meet Madlenka, she takes us on a walk around her block inspiring everyone she meets to remember their own childhood dog.  Once she meets her friend, Cleopatra, who has a similar longing for a horse, they plunge into a dreamworld with their imaginary pets, until called back to reality: “Madlenka! Come home…”  And all of the dogs of her walk’s dreaming go with her.  In short: while Madlenka is our emotional link here, she’s really a window onto the whole universe’s love and longing.  I smile, even laugh, when I read this with the Changeling, but I never put it down without feeling a little wistful: “It’s true, I really do love…”  And then I give my Changeling an extra-big hug while she says, “And I think I want a cat first, and then we’ll have a dog.  Do you want a bird?”  “Yes,” I say, “but I love you best.”

I think you’ve gotten the general impression of the Changeling’s review already, but how does she engage with Madlenka’s Dog?  I mean, apart from dragging it off the shelf, “reading” it to the cat, and pulling it up onto my lap?  Well, she knows it at least half by heart, and, when we’re curled up reading it, even if she’s half-asleep she’ll know when it’s time to jump up and open the flaps to find the dogs.  As she opens the flaps she’ll tell stories about the dogs, and name them.  (They’re all named Remy, except for the black and white one who “looks sort of like Penny,” our cat.)  She asks all about the huge two-page spread pictures showing Madlenka and Cleopatra playing together: “Are they in Egypt?  Are those the sca-rab bee-tuls?  Scarab beetles, yes!  And let’s find the rabbits on the next page…”  But the part that always makes my heart throb a little is the softening in her voice at the last page when she sees Madlenka at the door and says: “Look, all the dogs came with her…”

This is a beautiful book, and I’ve stopped trying to protect it too much.  The Changeling is generally gentle with books, but toddler-love still leaves its marks, and maybe one day we’ll need a second copy.  I don’t mind.  I think Madlenka would be flattered that the Changeling, and her parents, share her dreams.

 

Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds

I’m a Canadian girl, born and bred, and by “bred” I mean “brought up reading all the classics of Canadian children’s literature.”  After a few years living in the USA, I know perfectly well that when I tell Americans that I get a fixed, frozen smile while my polite interlocutor rapidly shuffles through the bookshelves of memory while thinking, “Crap, what did I miss?”  Let me save you the pain of that moment: Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing definitely made it south of the border, and so did Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever (give me a second, even typing the title brings tears to my eyes), so you may have heard of those.  Both authors wrote lots of other fantastic books which aren’t so common here, and maybe I’ll write about them and all the other great ones (like Dennis Lee, ooh, and Borrowed Black) another time.  The problem is, lots of Canadian books really just don’t make it south of that irritating border.  That’s why I was totally thrilled when, on two separate occasions, I got home with books I’d grabbed from prominent, face-out displays at the Harvard Book Store, opened them up, and saw they came from Kids Can Press!  Good on you, Kids Can Press, for getting your excellent books down here where I can buy them.  Let us scatter our writings across the world: bread, circuses, and good books for everyone!

Let’s talk about one of those books: Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds, text and illustrations by Marianne Dubuc; translated by Yvette Ghione.  This book is simply charming.  Let me start by complimenting the translator: I had no idea I was reading a translation until I finished the book, flipped to see who had published it, and read: “English translation by Yvette Ghione.”  Please keep translating, Yvette, OK?  You make me want to read the French just to see if it can be as smooth and sometimes witty as your translation.

Mr. Postmouse's Rounds.jpg

But what makes this book stand out for me as a book?  Well, the story is about a mouse who takes the post to all the other animals around and then brings the last package home and it turns out it’s a gift for his son, Milo.  (Yes, a narrow, logical-minded reader might ask why he carried the package around with him all day instead of hiding it under the bed or something, but let’s not be that way, OK?  Maybe he just forgot he had it at the bottom of his cart.  Shut up and read the story.)  It’s a simple, straightforward story, and Marianne Dubuc uses it in an ingenious way: she takes the reader along with her to learn about various animal homes.  Let’s look at a rabbit burrow, or a snake’s house, or a squirrel’s nest, or various birds’ nests!

Well, that’s cute, but don’t we have nature books to do that?  There are all kinds of great Eyewitness books, or A Bird Is a Bird, or any number of others, right?  Well, that’s what I love about this one: it’s not a nature book.  It never forgets that it’s a whimsical, charming work of fiction.  The rabbits have a nice house above ground with a rooftop garden… and then a ladder leading down to various burrows beneath the ground, including a cute and clever lavatory.  It’s a sensible lavatory: you get a chance to look at rabbit poop.  It’s a nonsensical lavatory: do rabbits normally sit on a toilet reading the newspaper?  The birds each have their own rather fantastical nests, including the thieving magpie’s den with a “WANTED” poster on the tree.  In short, each page has a nugget or two of natural sciences if you want that (Mr. Postmouse is thrilled he doesn’t have to go to Mr. Snake’s house, his natural predator), but happily plunges into the absurd, too (Mr. Postmouse stops for lunch with his friend Mr. Dragon).  And yet the whole work has the same kind of natural logic that you find in Richard Scarry’s books: it makes sense in its own world, and is rich, full, and textured.

Mr. Postmouse has another special meaning to me: this is the first book the Changeling chose entirely for herself.  She spotted it on the display, made a beeline for it, grabbed it down, begged me to read it to her, and instantly said, “This is the book I want to take home with me.”  (Of course I said yes.  I mean, I’m writing about it right now, aren’t I?  And, oh all right, my heart melted within me.  I’m only a book-loving mama, I’m not made of stone, y’know.)  So, that’s the heart of the Changeling’s review here: it grabbed her immediately.  From what she tells me about it, I’d say she loves the richness of detail in the illustrations as much as I do: “And there’s a bird!  And the bird has a swing!  It’s a yellow bird.  And there’s apples!  Is that a tree and an umbrella?  The umbrella is beside the tree.”

Each page is full of things to explore, so let me warn you: this isn’t a quick book to read.  This is a book for cuddles, and giggles, and a leisurely chat as you go from animal house to animal house.  Let Mr. Postmouse show you around, and check out each bit of sense and nonsense as you go.

And Kids Can Press?  Please keep doing what you’re doing, and maybe pass on a few tips to Nimbus and the others up there.

Swan

“I swear there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when she gave her reading.” “I have to admit I got a bit weepy at the end.”  “I found myself tearing up while I was reading the last page aloud.”

These are all things I heard adults say about Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad.  In fact, I’m the one who was tearing up as I saw that final feather fall, beautifully rendered by Julie Morstad, when I was reading it to the Changeling.

Swan

You could say the book’s a biography of Anna Pavlova, simple enough to read to a toddler, with pretty pictures to engage the child’s interest, but interesting enough to keep the adult happy.  But then what is it that brought so many adults to tears?  And how do children react?  Here’s my take.

Two things make Swan stand out for me as an adult, and for what I notice as a mother:

a) The perfect linking between text and illustration.  As a side note, I’ll say this is one of the things I love about Chronicle Books.  They always seem to match author and illustrator and end up with 1+1=A Whole New World.  In this case, the words are spare, perfectly reduced to the poetic essence of Anna’s young mind, and the illustrations more than flesh them out, a perfect balance between realism and dream world.  Note, for example, young Anna at the beginning, dancing as she works: the workaday world is clear to see, but the soft, lush lines show how much more young Anna is experiencing than the broom or the laundry in her hands.  You don’t need extra words– the few lines of text are meticulously crafted, and the pictures let you immerse yourself further and further in the story and in Anna’s feelings, from page to page.  Hell, I wish I could (legally) embed pictures from the book in here, because they speak for themselves, but follow that link above and scroll down the page, then know that they’re only more spectacular in person, printed on the lovely paper that Chronicle’s production team gave this book.  (While you’re at it, think about adding a few copies to your cart: one for your family, one for a friend’s child, and one to donate to a child who could use it.)

Anna's first encounter with ballet.jpg

b) The story is simply Anna’s, and, as such, a story for everyone.  This is a biography.  That means we’re reading the story of Anna Pavlova’s life.  So that’s it, right?  Yes, except that in these pages we’re getting what’s remarkable about her life, why we should care about, of all people, Anna Pavlova.  And, as the story unfolds, we do care.  We absolutely care.  We feel her disappointment when she’s too young to go to dance school.  We feel her joy when she’s finally on stage.  We feel her restlessness, her desire to share, her love for dance and her fellow humans.  And, as we understand her story, it draws out our own humanity and compassion and desire to do, to overcome obstacles, and to share one’s accomplishments.  This is 100% her story, and, at exactly the same time, a story for everyone.  In a word, without being in the least bit didactic, it is inspirational.

What about a toddler, though, Deborah?  Are you telling me that your Changeling really got all of that?  Well, of course not, although, let’s be honest– with toddlers who can tell?  Why do you think I call her the Changeling?  Hidden depths, my fellow readers, hidden depths, I tell you.  That said, what did the Changeling tell me?   Well, given her current obsession with birds, it’s unsurprising, but here you go:

“There’s the swan!  It’s a bird!  Oh, is the swan sad?  Should I kiss the swan?  The swan is dancing!  I can dance.  Look at me, I’m dancing!”

Draw your own conclusions, book-lovers, I leave the interpretation of this oracular speech to you.  I can tell you that she liked it a lot, and that my suspicion is that interest will only grow with age and understanding.

I think this is a book that’s going to last.  I know it’s going to last in my family, and there’s a reason it jumped at me as the first book to talk about here.  It made my soul grow, and I hope it will help the Changeling in due time, too.  It’s a book I’ll be buying as gifts for new babies and donations for children in need.  My only fear for this book is that it will be seen as “a book for girls.”  It’s not: it’s a book for anyone who loves beauty, who can fight for what they love, and be generous with their skills and accomplishments.  I love a book that’s for everyone, and this is such a book.

What is the Children’s Bookroom?

I have never liked long and complicated explanations of a blog’s purpose and what it’s hoping to attain.  As far as I’m concerned, the writer should go for it and show what they’re up to, which is what I’m planning to do.  That said, I do have a little note to address to myself.  Let’s call it a chance for me to think over what I want to do– a journal entry I happen to be posting on the internet, perhaps:

  1. What am I going to write about?  I want to write about books.  I read a lot of books, and I like them, so I’m going to write about the books I like.  I’ll give a little overview of the book, and then write about what I like.  (I don’t think I’d bother writing about books I don’t like, because where’s the fun in that?)  This will probably be mostly children’s books, because, well, I love children’s books, and also I’m a mother, so I read a lot of books with my Changeling.
  2. Will these be old or new books?  It will be a gory party of whatever I pull out of my library, or whatever I’m reading.  That means some will be old or obscure favourites, or Canadian books I’ll be railing at the world to notice, and a lot will be new children’s publications because I do try to keep up with those.
  3. Who am I talking to here? Myself, pretty much.  I’ll write about what I like, and think about books the way I like them, and if anyone else wants to join the party, welcome!  But this is really my space to think about books I like, and that’s it.
  4. Why the name?  When I was thinking about starting this, the image that popped to mind is one of an old favourite of mine, Eleanor Farjeon’s The Little Bookroom.  Well, that name was taken, and, anyway, I wanted something that got more closely at the children’s literature focus I’ll probably take here, but I still liked the idea of giving the nod to Eleanor Farjeon.  She has a quality I love of steeping herself in the traditional, the old, the literary– and producing something entirely quirky, original, and new.  I want this space to be something like that: a space where I can steep myself in all the books I know and love, and perhaps that process will bring me somewhere entirely new, original, and hopefully a little quirky.

So, that ends my note to self, which I suppose could also be a little guide to whoever happens along, and next week I’ll start talking about books.  We shall see where we begin– perhaps with Swan, or perhaps with Cat Valente’s Fairyland series, or perhaps with the Moomin books?  Who can tell?  (Well, I could, if I could make up my mind, I guess.)