Sunday, April 5, 2009

Molly McCall: One Baby, One Bookcase, and a Whole Lot of Books

My daughter is six months old. She tugs at her toes, slurps on her toys, and, occasionally, positions herself in such a way that she suddenly and majestically flips from her tummy to her back. She’s rarely patient enough to sit through the reading of a book. But I’m ready nonetheless.

Over the years, I’ve acquired children’s picture books that amuse or inspire me. None were purchased with any thought of a child of my own. I just loved them. Books like Maira Kalman’s sly and exuberant “Ooh-la-la Max in Love,” Istvan Banyai’s wordless “Zoom,” William Steig’s squiggly and true “Grownups Get to Do All the Driving,” or the pitch-perfect “Owen” by Kevin Henkes have long nestled alongside my other books. They are well written, beautifully illustrated, full-hearted, and funny. Something in each of them got me.

Once I found out I was pregnant, however, everything changed. This was a collection -- and it was missing so many of the books I loved as a child: “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish,” “Make Way for Ducklings,” “Pat the Bunny.”

These books formed the foundation of my love of reading. Returning to them in my burgeoning state, I felt that same flush of pleasure over the familiar curve of the images, the playful slap of the words. Soon, I found myself pawing through new and used bookshops, happily rediscovering long forgotten friends like “Babies” by Gyo Fujikawa and “Katy and the Big Snow” by Virginia Lee Burton. My shelf of children’s books began to grow as fast as my tummy.

In the meantime, friends and family, many of them ex-booksellers, pitched in. Korje, a buyer at Books Inc. (and a former Keplerite), gave me a huge, luscious stack of children’s books. Andrea (also a Kepler’s alum) turned me on to the delightful, smudgy stories of a little French doggie named Lisa.

In a magnificent surprise move, members of the Kepler’s fiction book group put together a basket of children’s books for me. Many of them picked books they loved as kids or volumes they encountered and adored as adults. Through them, I met such new titles as "Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale" and “Little Pea.” Children’s authors Kevin and SuAnn Kiser gave me a copy of one of their own books, “The Birthday Thing.”

So here we are, at six months and already the three-shelf case in my daughter’s room is crammed. Maybe it’s early for all this, but what better way for a book-loving mother to welcome her little reader into the world? When my daughter’s ready to look up from her toes and focus on the page, I’ll be there, book in hand.


  1. What a lovely post. It has me longer to read to my own children again, but at 19 and 17... Still, we do share wonderful times talking about books we read and love.

    Do remember Beatrix Potter. Her stories - and Peter Rabbit is IMHO not nearly her best - are absolutely delightful! - Meg Clayton

  2. Meg, you are so right. Beatrix Potter is a treasure. What are your favorites by her?

  3. How nice to see that some other adult loves children's books as much as I do, even without or before the kids. Although I've never gotten to the point of buying children's books for a collection, when we cleaned out the family home after my father died, I did walk off with several books from my childhood. And when friends' children were young, it was a good excuse to park myself in the children's section of the bookstore. I still wander through the back corner of Kepler's now and again, my hands grazing over the covers and spines, when I don't think anyone is watching.

  4. The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse! (Mr. Jackson never wipes his feet.)

    Ginger and Pickles (a little economics lesson in a children's story. This one is probably why Chris is majoring in econ at U or Chicago - he loved this story!)

    And The Tale of Jeremy Fisher.

    I just got the book for Monday - thankfully it's short! See you then!