Saturday, January 22, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Child

This morning I read Gumbo Lily's post, which led me to Pom Pom's post, which got me thinking about children's books. Why do we love them so? We seem to have reservoirs of memory and emotion, stored up in their pictures alone. So I decided to share with you some of my earliest children's books -- or rather, to share with you the images that fastened themselves to my childish mind, and never let go.

One of the earliest.  The inscription says that my grandmother gave this to me. This book was read to me, rather than my reading it on my own. I know this because all the pages are equally familiar, as if an adult were in charge of going from page one to the end.
The inside cover. Even now, when I see these animals in pastels, something very old and very young stirs inside me -- I remember.
These Scotty dogs were my favorite picture. I still love black Scotty dogs.
I loved the house on the front of this book.  I've loved houses from the time I was very little. I should probably have been an architect or a real estate agent.
The pictures in this book are simple line drawings. "Mr Nobody" became a favorite scape-goat in my family growing up. So often, no child would admit to being guilty of some minor offense.  "Mr. Nobody did it!" we cried.
I would stare at these pages.  I loved the idea -- the feel -- of clouds like marshmallow cream, dipped up in a giant spoon. And I was fascinated by the hiding boy, with his eyes above the curtain, and his toes below. I wanted to hide like that.
This one was a favorite, and you see that my parents tried to instruct me in the ways of Jesus at an early age. This book is a treasure.
I put myself into the little boy's shoes -- what would it be like to open your front door, and greet Jesus on the stoop?  I was also fascinated with the idea that the house belonged to the boy, not his parents (who do not figure in the story). He lets Jesus into his house. (Once again, it's a house.)  Here, Jesus seems barely older than a baby in his simple dress.
I loved, loved, loved the idea of creeping around the house, inspecting nooks and crannies. And a room under the stairs?  Oh! How magical! I think I was amazed at the idea of playing, with Jesus the child.
Everyone loves Little Bear. I don't know what became of the copy we had when I was little.  (The previous 3 books, I've kept for all these years.)  But I was so desperate to own it again -- hm, to see and experience it again. When I look at the old pictures, it's like smelling an old smell.  I'm immediately drawn back to childhood, and there's an inner stirring and emotion that accompanies it, which is most pleasant. I had to own the book, to feel that feeling again.
All the stories are beautifully simple. I always loved this picture of Little Bear, flying to the moon. As a child, I didn't understand that he didn't really go there, that it was just a story his mother was telling. Just as I didn't understand that the whole "child-catcher" part of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was just a story being told to the children.  I thought it really happened to them in the movie -- until I was an adult!
Years ago, my uncle worked for Harper & Row, and he would bring home lots of books.  We children were allowed to pick out a favorite.  This was one of mine. I have four of them now, because I shamelessly stole the ones given to my brothers.  I justified my thievery by telling myself that I was keeping the set together. Shameful!  But, the set is still together :)
"The Little House."  Look at the intricacy!  As a child, I could imagine exactly what the inside was like, the little rooms and stairwells, turns and windows. I wanted to live in a tree.
Oh, "Bad Mousie"!! What a tale! You may recognize the artist here, Garth Williams. His style is rich and full of texture. Everything in his pictures is plump, and you want to touch it. All the pictures in this whole book are by Mr. Williams.
Bad Mousie is so bad that his owner tries to drown him.  I would stare at this picture over and over, imagining his plight.  So bad! But so pitiful! This story helped my child's mind to understand that people can be complex.
"The Land of Counterpane." I memorized this poem as a kindergartner, to recite at a program. The imagination of seeing one's quilt as a landscape was very appealing to my mind.
This is "Georgie."  He's a ghost.  When ejected from his home by the owners, he searches out a new one, but this old man's house scares even the ghost! I cared little for Georgie, his plight, or the old man.  I was only interested in the stairwell, the rafters, the fireplace, mantle, chair, clock.  It was the house that enthralled me here, yet again.
Children need books, and pictures.  Pictures that they can sit over, gaze at, touch, and imagine. I'm not sure that even the most amazing computer graphics can do that.  The screen pages flick past too quickly.  And what's left to the imagination, when every eventuality of the computer game can be played out, and you can see it? I think we need things that we can't see, except with the mind's eye, the child's eye, the imagination. That is what stirs in me, even when I see these pictures now.


  1. Love this post, MK. I adore children's books as well. Such beautiful memories & you express them wonderfully.

  2. Hi, I was wondering what book you got Mr. Nobody from and what year it was written? I am working on a book by Elizabeth Prentiss which has this poem in it and I am trying to find out if she wrote it. I enjoyed reading your memories. :)


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