I Am 32 Pages and Then Some

Alison Morris - January 29, 2008

Today happens to be my 32nd birthday. If you equate years to pages, this means my life has just reached the length of your average picture book! Yippee!!

This entertaining little realization has had me thinking about the illustrated books that I loved as a child — the ones that might’ve unwittingly played a hand in making me the person I am today. As I don’t know who’d have the time to read my musings on 32 illustrated books I loved as a child, I cut the number in half. What follows is a list of 16 books I read so often as a child that they’re still somehow a part of me today. For the most part I’ve stayed away from including the same books that would appear on the childhood favorites list of almost everyone in my generation (Goodnight Moon, Pat the Bunny, Make Way for Ducklings, The Snowy Day, etc.), but there are some popular choices in here that I couldn’t help including.


A Hole Is to Dig by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
My grandmother’s first cousin, Bob White, was a sales rep for HarperCollins, back in its "Harper and Row" days. One of my favorite, favorite relatives, Bob (and his just-as-wonderful wife Peg!) always saw to it that my home library included some of the best children’s book gems, and this was one of them. A staple of our bedtime read-alouds, my favorite page was the one that explains, "Mud is to jump in and slide in and yell doodleedoodleedoo." Now, though, I’m also very partial to "A book is to look at," and "Rugs are so dogs have napkins."

Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley by John Burningham
This book and its companion, Come Away from the Water, Shirley, were two of my absolute favorites. My own childhood copies are falling apart at the seams because I read them and re-read them so many times, marveling at the fact that Shirley could be one place in body while simultaneously somewhere else in her mind. I experienced this magical dualism every day as a kid but was fascinated to see it represented in pictures. And I was entertained by the endless nagging of Shirley’s mum.

Bill and Pete by Tomie dePaola
Every time I buy a new toothbrush I think of this book. Seriously. Embedded deep in my subconscious is the image of William Everett (a.k.a. Bill), a crocodile standing in the store with his mother, eyeing all the birds lined up on the store display, looking for the right one to pick at his teeth. He picks Pete, a plover. My own toothbrush purchases have never been half so memorable as Bill’s.

The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord, with verses by Janet Burroway
A town is besieged with wasps and comes up with the ultimate way to catch them — an enormous sandwich. The villagers make a huge open-faced jam sandwich, the wasps fly into the jam and get stuck fast, helicopters circling above drop another slice of bread onto the jam, and birds carry away the sandwich and savor the feast. Great fun! (But wow do those illustrations look "retro" to me now!)

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale retold by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
We didn’t own this book, but I checked it out of the library. Again. And again. And again. I think it scared me a little, which was part of its appeal. Even now I get a nervous little shiver when I think of it — amazing how a book can still affect the same way, years and years after you first read it.

George and Martha by James Marshall
I mean, really — when it comes to friendship stories, does it get any better than the George and Martha books? The older you are, the funnier they get — and the more you see your own relationships in them, too. I will never, ever fall out of love with these stories, and they’ll never stop making me laugh.

Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer
I loved lots of Mercer Mayer books as a kid, but I think this one was my favorite. My mom’s from Tennessee, so the Southern flavor of this book felt very familiar to me, and the fact that the main character is African-American did too. My early schooling years were spent in inner-city schools where I was part of the mixed masses. I was, in fact, the only white kid in my kindergarten class and didn’t know that anyone else had it any different. Black/white/whatever color the protagonists, a story was a story to me. As it still is.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs
Why do kids love this book? Because Father Christmas is so cranky, and because you get to see him sitting on the toilet. Oh, the power of the naked bum! It worked wonders for David Shannon’s career too, you know. It’s the naked bum page of No, David! that sends kids into uncontrollable fits of giggles. You adults who were once fans of Father Christmas or The Snowman or the more recent Ug, Boy Genius of the Stone Age ought to now do yourselves the favor of reading Ethel and Ernest. It’s a graphic novel so beautiful it’ll move you to tears.

The Monster at the End of This Book, Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin
This is one of the few TV-inspired books that I can recall really loving as a child, as I did my Sesame Street records (in particular an album called "In Harmony," which I still think is great). This book cracked me up. I also loved another Grover book, Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum.

The ChildCraft "How and Why" Library published by World Book (mine were circa 1980)
I loved this set of books and pored over all the illustrations and stories and information in each of them. My favorite, though, was Make and Do, which apparently is the favorite of lots of others like me, who grew up to be artsy-craftsy types.

Eight Little Indians by Josephine Lovell (pub. by Platt & Munk, 1936)
I have no idea how many inaccuracies there were in these stories about Native American children from eight different tribes, but I do know that this book enthralled my mother as a child and had the same effect on me. Recently my mom loaned our copy to a neighbor girl who fell just as in love with it as we each did. I wound up having to go online and purchase a copy for her, just so that she wouldn’t be heartbroken when we took ours back!

Where Did I Come From?
by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins
Hey, you’ve got to learn the facts of life somehow, and this book and What’s Happening to Me? were the ones my parents used to broach those discussions in our house. I can’t say I *loved* these books, because (frankly) the very thought of what was on those pages pretty well grossed me out as a child. But I did find them informative and grossly fascinating, as did the person who wrote a very entertaining article for the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 2004, prompted by her memories of reading this book.


I’m Nobody, Who Are You? Poems of Emily Dickinson for Young People by Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Rex Schneider (pub. by Stemmer House, 1978)
I absolutely, positively LOVED this book as a child, and I think it’s precisely because I didn’t really understand most of the poems in it. I found them fascinating but odd, baffling but beautiful. (Probably not unlike how some adults feel about poetry in general, poor souls.) My favorite poem in the book was the title poem, "I’m nobody, Who are you?" for which I can still recall Rex Schneider’s illustration of a portly frog, telling his "name the livelong day to an admiring bog."

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi, illustrated by Edward Gorey
Funny, funny stuff! My favorite poem in this collection was one called "Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast." Apparently it’s the favorite of lots of other kids too! The added bonus of memorizing this poem is the addition of two SAT-type words to your vocabulary: "bituminous" and "anthracite."

(these were ostensibly not for children, but they certainly did appeal to ME)

Gnomes by Will Huygen, illustrate by Rien Poortvliet
This elaborate book about gnome-life was not written specifically with children in mind, but I can recall poring over its pages as a child, and being fascinated by every little detail about gnome clothing, households, pets, food, and so on and so on and so on. I was, however, completely freaked out by the gruesome-looking, leaky-nosed trolls in the book and would flip past their sections of the book as quickly as possible. Ick.

The Homemaker’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating by McKinley Wilton and Norman Wilton (originally published in 1954)
My mother was not the "bake an elaborate cake for every occasion" type, so I’m not quite sure how this book made it into our home library. Perhaps it was a hand-me-down from my grandmother, who was at one time a home economics teacher? Whatever the case, this book landed on our bookshelves and then into my hands where it took up frequent residence. Bad black-and-white photos and a few mediocre color photos showed fancy cake designs with elaborate frosting curlicues, incredible floral arrangements, and a few very kid-friendly designs. For years I dreamed of having an upside-down bowl-shaped birthday cake with a Barbie-like doll jutting out of its center, her skirt (the cake) frosted to look like layers of silk chiffon or something else fancy-like. I might have been a tomboy in some ways, but I was not above dreaming of sickeningly sweet cakes with frilly pink icing. The cakes I loved most in this book, though, were the many-tiered wedding cakes with plastic columns between their layers and a fountain — A WORKING FOUNTAIN!! — perched on the bottom-most slab of cake. I thought the idea of having a gurgling fountain ON your actual cake was unbelievably cool.

Today, though, I’m much happier with life’s simpler sweet-tooth pleasures, like the carrot cake and brownies two of my colleagues baked for me today. No fountains in sight, thank goodness!

What were YOUR favorite picture books growing up? And what’s YOUR dream cake? Do tell.

(Inspiration for the title of today’s post came from Ani DiFranco. If you don’t know why I say that, listen/look.)

6 thoughts on “I Am 32 Pages and Then Some

  1. Carter Hasegawa

    Happy Birthday! This was a great post to read. I must’ve read that Grover book hundreds of times. We also had an Adventures with Bert and Ernie (or something like that) tape that I listened to all the time. There was one clip where Ernie was pretending to go on a tiger hunt. I’d crawl around my floor and up the furniture pretending I was with him. Oh, good ol’ Sesame Street.

  2. Abby

    I remember my aunt reading “The Monster at the End of This Book” to me over and over and over… And I also loved the Childcraft books (that same aunt used to work for them, actually) and my favorites were the ones dealing with anything science (plants, animals, human body, outer space…). Other favorite books were the Disney adaptation of Uncle Remus Tales (I was a character from one of those stories for Halloween when I was three or four… the wuller-de-wust), Two Bad Ants, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

  3. sue c

    One of my earliest favorites was something about three church mice…Tom, Dick, and Harry which we borrowed from the library and I can not find now. Eloise was another favorite. She made me hunger for fine hotel and very good restaurant experiences. Brunch at the Plaza with a good friend in adult years is a treasured memory. Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet was another favorite. THank goodness these last two are still in print! I don’t feel so “dated”! Happy BD to you, young chick.


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