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Words at Play: Revisiting Books


Published September 22, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.

Children often discover books they want to hear over and over again. Sometimes the book is a classic, like "Curious George" or "Where the Wild Things Are", but just as often an obscure picture book happens to catch a child’s fancy. I encourage parents and caregivers to read these book as requested. Picture books are works of art and nourish children in ways that are difficult to quantify. And repetition is comforting. The book that a child wants to hear again and again speaks directly to their needs at a particular moment in their development. Eventually they will move on to other books.

Even after reading a book many times, there is always something new to discover. In "Goodnight Moon", the mouse moves around the great green room and eventually eats some of the porridge on the table. The clock shows that it is getting later and later as the bunny gets ready for bed. The picture on the wall of the rabbit fishing is from another book by Ruth Brown called "The Runaway Bunny." I thought I had noticed all the important details in "Goodnight Moon," but recently someone pointed out that the little rabbit looks at the things in the room as they are mentioned in the book. For example, when the text says, “Goodnight bears, goodnight chairs,” the bunny looks at the picture of the bears sitting in the chairs. I have read "Goodnight Moon" many, many times, but had never noticed that detail.

My now-grown daughter Alice’s nap book was "A Hole is to Dig" by Ruth Krauss, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak. We read it every afternoon before she took her nap. It's a book of definitions. “A hole is to dig, mashed potatoes are so everyone can have enough, puppies are to kiss people.” When Alice was about to leave for graduate school in London, I gave her a copy of the book to remind her of home.

When my son, Willi, was five, his bedtime reading was "The Little Quiet Book" by Katharine Ross. Each page shows a picture of something quiet. On facing pages, we see a moth and a mocking bird. The text reads, “Quiet is the moth, flapping its wings, quiet is the mocking bird after it sings.” I read the book to Willi every night for a month and then he started reading it to me. Sadly, we lost the book. I was upset but Willi said, “Don't worry, Dad.” He held a pretend book in his hands and mimed turning the pages. He had the entire book memorized, so he could recite the whole thing. The book ends with the words, “Quiet is the stream, quiet is the brook, quiet are you as you close this book.” Willi recited those last two pages, mimed closing the book and then put his finger to his lips and said, “Hush.” I'll always remember it as a magic moment. 

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.