Readers share memories of stories past

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 3, 2011

One of the most vivid memories of my early mommyhood came when I read to my daughter Spencer for the first time.
I was sitting on the carpeted floor in our residence hall apartment at Radford University, reading a board book called “Baby Ben.”
I didn’t personally get the appeal of Baby Ben books — as babies go, Ben seemed a little creepy, with his white circle eyes. But I will never forget the rapt look on her face or how tuned in she was as we read about Baby Ben getting dressed or imitating animal sounds.
I experienced a physical surge of joy (I remember it distinctly) that came with the revelation that reading would be a simple and profound source of happiness for us both.
And so it was.
And of course later my younger daughter Quinn snuggled right into our magical little reading trinity.
I have no idea how many hours we spent reading during those pre-school years, but I’m sure the total would be mind-boggling. And I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that these are the most satisfying hours I’ve ever spent.
In my mind I can still hear a high-pitched voice “reading” “Where the Wild Things Are” with great drama: “The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes….”
Lindsey Wineka has similar memories of reading ‘The Big Hungry Bear’ and ‘The Red Ripe Strawberry’ to her very young sons.
“They knew the words for every page by heart,” she said. “‘Ho mouse, what oooo doing?’”
Sometimes, to my chagrin, my kids would latch on to a book I found entirely mediocre: “Purple Parrots Eating Carrots” was one such book, but I grew to appreciate it just because they did.
My memories from my own childhood are less vivid, but I do know that I loved hearing “The Poky Little Puppy” and “The Little Engine that Could.” When I was older, I remember my father reading “The Snow Queen” to me, a somber tale that to this day makes me think of jagged, scary shards of ice.
I really don’t think there is anything better you can do for your children than read to them. In an entirely unforced way, reading bestows physical closeness, enjoyment, education and love. As you give your child your pure, undivided attention by reading to her, you give her the gift of concentration and an appreciation for the pleasures of language. (I remember once when Spencer was quite young she was walking around the house saying, “plump, plump, plump” to herself. When I asked her about it, she said, “I just like the way it sounds.”
Some Post readers shared their childhood memories of reading with me, including poet and Catawba College English professor Janice Fuller.
“One of the first books I remember reading was ‘If Jesus Came to My House,’” she said.
“As my mother or my older cousin Skipper would read it to me, I’d echo the words they said. I was an only child, and I loved to look at the pictures of the haloed boy and hear the story of all the things we’d do together if he came to my house for a day—take turns riding a rocking horse, find all the best hiding places.
“I liked to think about his visit so much that I’d take the book off by myself and ‘read it’ out loud from memory, sometimes inventing games the boy and I would play together. I liked to trace the shapes of the letters with my finger. I even decided to copy the letters in the white margins with a black crayon. It was only later that I realized all my crayon letters were backwards.”
Symphony director David Hagy remembers reading “Mary Poppins” when he was a child. When the movie came out later, Hagy judged the Julie Andrews character to be “far too pretty” and “not quite feisty enough” as compared to the book.
Hagy notes that the Salisbury Symphony’s family concert this year is about children’s tales, including Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”
Deal Safrit, owner of the Literary BookPost, recalls fondly the animal characters in the stories of Thornton Burgess, including “Old Mother West Wind.” (As we talked about these books, I’m pretty sure he decided to order some for the Literary BookPost).
Katrina Cowger has fond memories of “Eugene Why Don’t You Paint?” by Betsy Wade.
“I remember thinking it was so funny that a kid was even allowed to paint, but then, as the story went on, everything he touched got paint on it, and he ended up painting EVERYTHING in his room! I remember the last picture in the book was his mother walking him out of his blue room (even HE was blue), and she had blue hand and armprints around her skirt from where he’d hugged her.”
Marietta Foster Smith remembers her older sister reading “Cry Baby Calf” to her.
“I loved it,” she said. “I don’t think it would have mattered what story it was, it was just nice having her read to me.”
“I remember when I started to school and found out that the other kids knew what kind of ice cream they were getting because they could read the label. I couldn’t wait to learn to read so I could do that too.”
Ann Sperry remembers loving visits from her grandmother, who “was always eager to read to us.”
“She had the best lap,” Ann recalls.
Book page editor Deirdre Parker Smith remembers “Bread and Jam for Frances” and also recalls fondly her father doing different voices for “Clyde Crashcup,” a Golden book.
Melanie Miller remembers looking forward to her parents reading “The Night Before Christmas” every Christmas Eve. She looked forward to that tradition every year and continues it with her own son Luke.
Donna Smith says her favorite book as a child was “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson, with her favorite poem “The Swing.”
“I just loved the words to that particular poem and knew it by heart at one time.”
Emily Wilder remembers wanting to be just like Sal in “One Morning in Maine” and “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey.
“I asked my parents to check it out from the library every visit. I have a copy on my bookshelf today, and although I haven’t made it to Maine yet, those books put it top on my travel list as an adult. From those I also learned about the Caldecott award and always hunted for those ‘special’ books at the library.”
Mary Ann Johnson says she remembers vividly her mother coming home from the grocery store with Golden Books.
“Always a thrill,” she says.
She also remembers a set of battered orange Childcraft books; I had the same set and the same fond memories associated with it.
Not everyone has happy memories of being read to as a child.
Kurt Corriher notes that in his hardworking German farm family, there was “no time for such frivolities, ” although “my mother might have done so had my father not kept her busy cooking and canning and sewing (she made almost all of our clothes—I wore feed-sack shirts to school, even when I was in high school).
Still, Corriher was introduced to Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books when he was in the third or fourth grade and quickly read his way through every one that was available at his school library — although he often had to “sneak” his reading in because his father considered it a waste of time.
“ I remember hiding a book beneath a winter coat and reading it while I watered the cows. I loved riding the bus to school because I could hunker down in a seat and read to my heart’s content. That worked well on the way to school, but not so well on the way home because I sometimes got so absorbed in a book that I failed to get off at my house and had to walk back from a stop or two down the road.”
Mary Ann McCubbin remembers having a set of books called “Journeys Through Bookland” that started with nursery rhymes and went through Shakespeare.
“My mom used to read ‘Beowulf’ to me from these books. I loved the violence and monsters. I also had a very old copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that had the older more violent versions of the stories. Amazing that I’m kind of a pacifist now.”
Bill Noell remembers reading Uncle Remus stories so much that the cover started coming off, with “Brer Rabbit” one of his favorites.
“I’m not sure my parents had the dialect down, but they tried,” Noell says. “What’s really cool is I read it to my children when they were little.”
Many of us equate parents reading to us with love. Laura Lindsay shared this: “One day in elementary school, I was home sick. My mom sat at my bedside and read Nancy Drew’s ‘The Mystery of the 99 Steps’ to me. As a child, I was so impressed that she read an entire book to me in one day. I’ll always treasure that.”
Contact Katie Scarvey at Follow her on Twitter, @KatieScarvey.