Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Little Literati

Let me first say that this is not a picture of my son. I would never let my child read in a window, especially one without bars on it. It is a hazardous location for a reading nook and I neither condone nor recommend it. Now that we’ve established that, please enjoy the feeling of tranquility this picture inspires. Children. Books. Cooooooozy.

One of the great perks of your child growing older is that he and you, too, graduate to more sophisticated children’s literature. This is a huge deal for me because -- I’ll admit it -- since having my son, I have pretty much stopped reading adult books. Please don’t judge. Don’t act like the cashier at City Lights Bookstore in San Fran, when I was purchasing the three novels my husband had picked out for himself, along with the three children’s books I had picked out, who said: “Oh, I’m so glad to see you buying books for yourself. So many parents come in and just buy books for the kids and it’s so . . . sad.”

That’s the worst. The pity from non-parents (I can only assume this 20-something with a faux hawk was a non-parent). The pity for my brain-dead, no-life-outside-my-kids, last-contemporary-work-of-fiction-I-read-was-the-Corrections, miserable existence. Except I was spared the pity because he thought I was my husband, who does read, voraciously so, both legs of his commute and for a full hour during his lunch break.

I have a statement of defense prepared, if you’re interested.

I was the bookiest, literature-loving-est devotee of the written word you can imagine, the kind of kid who walked down the street with my nose in a book, bumping into things. I used to literally breathe in the scent of old encyclopedias at Sterling Memorial Library in my college years. Even when I was preggo, I read constantly, finishing up my masters in English Lit.

Then the baby touched down and I was obliterated by an exhaustion which frankly, has not let up yet. It sounds like a paltry excuse, I know, but if you are still waking with your kids 3, 4 times a night, and then starting your day of manual labor at 5:30am, I think you’ll buy it. The past few weeks, I’ve been falling asleep while telling the kids their bedtime stories at 7:30pm.

“MOMMY!” Primo yells, “You are saying nonsense! WAKE UP!”

So I may not read books intended for an adult audience but I do read to the kids all the time. We load up on new material at the library at least once a week. Seconda’s only two so her attention span is still limited but Primo’s shaping up to be a bookworm himself which makes his mama proud.

A few months ago, we tentatively made a foray into chapter books and let me tell you, there is no looking back. It is sublime. Don’t get me wrong, I brake for Mo Willems, I swoon for Sendak, I am totally tickled by Kevin Henkes and his deliciously precocious rodent characters. But Primo and I am now entering the hallowed halls of serious literature here. Our starter book was Pippi Longstocking, a hit because of the broad comedy and short chapters. Once he’d been baited with Pippi, I slipped in a little E.B.White. When was the last time you read Charlotte’s Web? That shit is INTENSE. During the last chapter I broke down and cried, though Primo didn’t get what the big deal was. Now we’re onto Stuart Little, a lyrical little gem that’s much funnier than you’d expect.

But the crowd pleaser, no question, is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Witnessing my son get swept away by the irresistible force of Dahl’s fantasy – Primo’s drive to rehash what we’ve just read, to tell the story to his friends, the thrill of speculating what might unfold in the next chapter, and the sweet, sweet sadness of knowing the end is soon to come – it’s kind of breathtaking. And how cool is it that I get to feel this awakening all over again myself, this sweet love affair with other peoples’ imaginations?

Ahhh . . . .motherhood. What bliss! What divinity!

(This message has been brought to you by the League of Little Literati and Foundation for the Furtherance of Dahl Dotage and Devotion.)

OK, your turn. Picks for best first chapter books? Tried and true favorites as well as more recent work, all welcome.