Dwight Garner, longtime book critic for The New York Times, has packed up his picture book shelves — his children’s picture book shelves, that is.
“This is an overdue task. They’re 13 and 15 now and we haven’t read aloud to them in years. We’ve kept this final stack at hand out of undiluted nostalgia. Moving it into the attic shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is.”
That day will be a big deal for me when it comes, too (and I imagine it is for many parents). But instead of packing up our picture books to put away, my family packed up ours last weekend to move, to a new house just a few minutes away.
My children are 11, 8, 7 and 7, and I don’t yet need to consider packing up the picture books for good, not even the board books, nearly all of which still find their way into the hands of some child or another pretty regularly. We’re certainly not done with what Garner calls the “bedtime book club” (although it waxes and wanes with homework levels and parental patience).
And even if we weren’t reading the picture books aloud some nights (some nights we read a chapter book; we’re currently in “Winter Holiday” from the Swallows and Amazons series), my youngest children read these familiar books to themselves to strengthen their reading skills and, I think, strengthen their memories and connection to their short pasts.
Even if we didn’t still have active picture book readers, our family wouldn’t be ready to set these books aside.
Picture books, especially the most loved ones, stay relevant on the shelves for a long time after you’d think a child would have put away “Officer Buckle and Gloria” for the last time.
At 8, 9, 10, 11, my oldest (and now my second oldest) would pick up a favorite and get lost. Sometimes a child just needs a picture book reading session. And the presence of the books on the shelves offers that connection for children who are changing fast: Just a few years ago, hearing “Little Pea” read aloud could rescue a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, and now — well, really, it still can. And maybe the sight of it will bring a smile to a sulky teenage face at some point.
We did cull some titles. Word books, board books that never reached the beloved and tattered status (it’s an irony of book sorting that the shiny ones with uncracked spines are the first to go) and picture books that never captured our hearts went into to-donate piles.
I, too, have been a book reviewer (and my book, “Reading With Babies, Toddlers and Twos,” co-written with my friends and book experts Susan Straub and Rachel Payne, will be reissued with all new book lists and much updated content on everything from e-books to iPads, in May). We buy books in bookstores, but my children also think of them as things that arrive regularly in brown paper envelopes containing offerings of wildly varying quality.
But most books were coming along for the move, which means we stacked them, tried not to make the boxes too heavy and drove them down one driveway and up another, where we sorted and reshelved.
When we unpacked, my children proved my point: It took us forever because no one could stop dipping into the pages, holding things up and rediscovering lost friends.
I know our picture books will seem like nostalgic clutter in a few years, but meanwhile, here’s a list of some of the books that took pride of place on our new shelves:
Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton, “A Visitor for Bear”
Lauren Child, “I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato”
Jules Feiffer, “Bark, George”
Lois Lenski, “Pilot Small”
John Perry and Mark Fearing, “The Book That Eats People”
Peggy Rathman, “Officer Buckle and Gloria”
Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace, “Little Pea”
Cynthia Rylant and Mark Teague, “The Great Gracie Chase”
Mo Willems, “The Pigeon Wants a Puppy”
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