Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reading with Momma

Do you know who PD Eastman is?

Who wrote Are You My Mother?

If your answer the the first question was 'no' and the second 'Dr. Seuss', you are wrong, but not alone. I always think that, too. I have to actually SEE the book to remember that it is Eastman.

Poor Mr. Eastman - I bet that happened to him a lot. Imagine cocktail parties -

Man with drink: So what do you do?

Mr. Eastman: I write children's books.

Man: I have kids. What've you written?

Mr. Eastman: Do you know Are You My Mother?

Man: Yeah, but that's Seuss.

Mr. Eastman: sigh

Since I am timid around strangers, I wouldn't have argued with him, but I probably would have walked off thinking, "What a whackaloon".

He also wrote Go, Dog, Go!, which I also always misidentify as being a Dr. Seuss book.

Are You My Mother was one of my favorite books when I was a tot. I can remember Momma reading it to me at bedtime. I can still dredge up a giggle thinking of "You are NOT my mother, you are a SNORT!" I loved, loved, LOVED being read to. Momma was a busy lady - a divorced working mom who kept an immaculate house, cooked a real dinner every night and never, ever made me feel that I was ANYTHING but treasured, important and adored and that she had all the time in the world for me and my problems. That is an amazing thing - I had a husband who was a very involved father, we went out to eat all the time, I kept house like a wolverine and I STILL regularly threatened to abandon The Child at a highway rest stop.

Looking back on it, the most amazing thing about our bedtime reading sessions was how interested and involved Momma seemed in the stories. Why, she seemed as fascinated with those stories as I was. As a parent who regularly dreamt of hunting down the Berenstain bears with a shotgun, I appreciate her acting skills. I guess that it got more interesting when I graduated to 'chapter books'. I could read from the age of 4 thanks to the bully that was the daughter of my babysitter - she came home from school every day and conducted class - a mixture of boot camp and Catholic school (or is that redundant?). Math is still a foreign language to me, but the reading stuck, somehow. But even though I could, and did, read for myself, there was something indescribably cozy and comforting about cuddling up with Momma and hearing her reading about Heidi and her grandfather, or Anne getting into scrapes, or even the insufferable Rebecca and her everlasting cheeriness (always less believable next to Anne's sincerity and very real flaws).

I always feel like I was a terrible mother when I compare myself to Momma, but I did read to The Child at least. She loved Frog and Toad and the aforementioned Bears. I traumatized her with the Narnia Chronicles - all was magic and charm until The Last Battle. She actually weathered the 'crucifixion' better than I did (I was awash, as I always am when I read it), but she was done in by the fact that Susan doesn't join them in Aslan's land. She was inconsolable and not much comforted by my theory that it only says that Susan didn't join them THEN. Later, I propounded, when she is READY, she'll surely join them. She now shares this hypothesis (I don't think she could bear not to). She grew up surrounded by books, seeing adults devote time (sometimes TOO much) to reading and talk of books and ideas. Now she's a wonderful writer, with an amazing vocabulary and a wicked sense of humor. I can't take the credit for those things, but I suspect the C.S. Lewis, Arnold Lobel and even those damned Berenstain people CAN.

P.S. I just looked it up my other favorite "Seuss" book Put Me in the Zoo....by Robert Lopshire. Cripes, do I like Dr. Seuss at all?


  1. You had me just Hee-Hawing at your tale---Chris is looking up from his John D. McDonald to see what I'm laughing at. He'll read it later---he usually does.

    I especially love your description of your vs. your Mom's Mothering/housekeeping skills---thee and me, hon. Though I've never threatened to go off and leave a kid. Dire consequences promised when we got HOME.

    Never happened. You know that.

    And you DO love Dr. Seuss---you love On Beyond Zebra. Read it. You'll see.

  2. PS How does that wolverine thing work? I think I've about got the hang of it.

  3. Yep, I know that! I share the lack of follow through with the little folk. I’ve always said that I must have one of those invisible ‘hobo marks’ on my forehead – except instead of designating me as an easy mark for a handout, it marked me for children and animals. There hasn’t ever been a child or animal born that feared me.

    I really DO love the Dr. I had forgotten ‘On Beyond Zebra’ until you mentioned it. Silly wordsmithing is one of my favorite things about Dr. Seuss – I do it myself. And I loved The Cat (I know that some people object to him). But poor Mr. Kim – he just discovered that HIS favorite Dr. Seuss book, “Let Papa Sleep” was written by…Emily Reed.

  4. Another lovely piece, Kim!

    I don't remember either of my parents reading to me at all. But I do remember they always had a book or a magazine they were in the middle of and a few more waiting to be started from the library or the book club. Reading was all around me, my mom, my dad, my grandmother. I read all the Hardy Boy books, and all the Dr. Dolittle books and I loved Greek mythology. When I got to jr. high The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings took their hold of me. Although I read much grow-up literature I still read and adore young people's literature whether it be Harry Potter or the Percy Jackson books which I'm reading now. I guess it was my home environment that created the reader in me.

  5. Thanks, "Anonymous"! I so recognize the description of a 'reading' home - library piles, magazines to be read - there are very few rooms in my house that you won't find something to read - even the odd closet! There are two kinds of people that make me uneasy - people who don't care for animals and people who have NOTHING to read in their homes. Now, I'm not saying that everyone has to turn their homes into libraries/used book stores, but I just find it unsettling when the only books in someone's house are their children's textbooks. And I agree with you that it was your home environment that nurtured the nascent reader in you - one of the most lasting gifts that we can give children.

    I also enjoy young people's and children's literature - I haven't read much recent stuff, but am crazy about the Oz books (there is a blog post coming about that topic when I have the time to devote to writing it), the 'girl' books of my and my mother's eras (Anne of Green Gables, any Alcott book) and the 'classics' - The Wind in the Willows, Heidi, Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, The Jungle Books. I could go on and on. There is never enough time in my day for enough reading!

  6. Actually I never heard of "Are You My Mother" but would love to find a copy.

    I bought a book at a yard sale this Saturday called "And The Bear Snored On." Adorable.
    Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman are the authors. Adorable. It's my new favorite. I am always buying childrens books for when the Greats come visit.

  7. Hey, wolverines admire my housekeeping style!

    What a wonderful, evocative story -- I teared up a bit. My Daddy was the bedtime reader in my house, and my fave Suess was "Horton hatches an Egg."

  8. Mona - I went to amazon and took a peek at that book. It IS adorable! Watch for "Are you my Mother" at yard sales and used book stores - it's a classic. I noticed that abebooks had a bunch of copies for $1. I may just have to get a copy.

    Maggie - Thank you - for both the compliment and the reassurance about my homemaking skills!

  9. YES! This one had a sticker on the back with $1.00 on it! I couldn't believe it. It is worth way more then that! It's a beautiful work...the artwork is amazing. I'm glad you saw it.