Gabriel has officially caught the reading bug. Just in time for the most beautiful spring day of 2011! We left the library with a stack of books this morning, and when we arrived home later he informed me that he was going to take off his shoes and read his books on the couch. I didn't get it at first. I'm going to read my books alone, he clarified. Then at naptime he selected his favorite, a slim volume on jumbo jets, and snuggled up next to it in bed with a contented sigh before drifting off to dream of jet engines.
It's hard not to grin when we watch him pore over picture books, and this new independent relationship to reading has coincided with a dawning awareness of phonics, which is very exciting. But joy of reading aside, there was no way I could countenance my children spending this glorious afternoon indoors. Luckily, after school they agreed to reading outside on our old favorite backyard blanket, a jungle-themed shower curtain handed to us free of charge at a yard sale years ago.
We generally want to share the things that are important to us with the people we care about, but this book thing of mine goes deeper than that. Certain books - the Little House series, the Narnia books, Betsy, Tacy & Tib, Madeleine L'Engle stories about the Austins and the O'Keefes, Anne of Green Gables - were a profoundly influential, orienting presence in my life. All my unruly childhood passions and inchoate adolescent yearnings got mapped onto those characters and plotlines.
Had I not connected so powerfully as a child with those books, I might be someone else today. Someone else's mother! So in a way, to know Laura is to know me. And to have the honor of introducing Frances to Laura and sharing a (thank goodness) similar breathless fascination with her pioneer life is to know Frances better too.
Every once in awhile a picture book at the library calls out to me, and with a little shock of recognition I remember reading it as a small child, usually because there was something strange or upsetting going on in the story (as there almost always is in the very best children's books). Did you ever read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? I had completely forgotten about that one til I stumbled upon it with Frances last year. The cover alone triggered a long lost memory of feeling intense worry. (Sylvester, a donkey, turns into a stone, and his adoring parents spend months grieving over him, unable to find him, imagining he is dead). A few weeks ago I found the Maurice Sendak book, Outside Over There. It's about Ida, who has to save her baby sister from terrible goblins all by herself. This book fascinated and disturbed me as a kid. So much so that I quickly tucked it back into the shelf before my kids saw me holding it. I'm not ready to revisit that one.
And today? I found Saint George and The Dragon, which is beautifully illustrated and features a detailed description of a bloody, violent, three day-long fight with an enormous dragon. I suddenly remembered savoring this book, just as Gabriel is doing now, mesmerized by its pictures and wanting to be alone with them so that no one could interrupt me and break the spell. So today I read it to the kids outside on the jungle shower curtain while they alternately pinched, snuggled, climbed over, and burrrowed into me - anything to help them tolerate the impossible suspense. A completely different reading experience from my first round with this book, but no less perfect.
And by the way, speaking of pioneering....I wanted to let you all know I've started blogging for the All Things Mothering community blog at www.mothering.com. Very exciting! You can read my first post, Frontier Life, here.