Startled Awake by Ernie’s Bugle

I’ve got friends who, at age 20 (or 30) could tell you right away what their favorite kids books were (and are), but for some reason I’ve never been that interested in kids’ books, at least not since I was a kid.

I have trouble remembering, too, what my favorite books were. Maybe it’s a symptom of moving around so much as a kid and changing languages to boot (from French with some English to English only). The Pooh books were my first chapter books, and later on I made my way through Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys, all of Judy Blume, a bunch of Xanth books, and various Secret Seven adventures. But I don’t remember what the picture books were. Probably some Seuss. Richard Scarry. Don’t know if I ever got Goodnight Moon.

(When I moved into adult books, it was the Bourne Identity and the sci-fi oeuvre of Michael Crichton, especially Terminal Man and Andromeda Strain. The school library was stocked with this stuff. I have gone back and looked at these books, and frankly I find them hard to read. I can’t get past the bad prose. I can’t suspend my disbelief while also navigating those sentences. Occupational hazard.)

But now I’ve got a kid, a kid who’s really into his books, and so I’m visiting (and revisiting) all kinds of kids’ titles. We’re in the picture book stage still, though he does go in for a chapter of Pooh now and then, and it’s astonishing to me what’s out there.

Frank Conroy used to say that in good work, you could feel the soul of the writer behind the sentences. The same goes for kids’ books. Some are sublime and magical, many more are creaky and didactic. The brilliance of Seuss is his command of the language and his judicious use of the absurd. The weakness of so many other books is the insistence on delivering a message, however well-intentioned, to a captive and underestimated audience.

I’ve got more to say on the subject, but I’ll save it for a future post. I’ve got a novel to write. Meanwhile, have you got any favorite children’s books? Any that miss the mark but remain inexplicably popular? Can anyone explain to me what’s going on in “My World”?

3 thoughts on “Startled Awake by Ernie’s Bugle

  1. I only remember two books from my childhood: a Disney version of Sleeping Beauty that my grandmother gave me and a picture book of the New Testament. I absolutely loved the Bible best. It was oversized and heavy.

  2. Finally, something I can comment on. I found a book the other day called “Fish Out of Water” that I didn’t remember I had read as a kid until I saw it again. As I flipped through it, it was like having an old friendly uncle tell you a story from your childhood. The illustrations were so familiar. When I was older, I also remember reading all the Encyclopedia Brown, and I read “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Phantom Tollbooth” again and again and again. As far as current books go:
    “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog”–Mo Willems-the character of the duckling is so well realized
    “Hug Time”–Patrick McDonnell-great rhyme, sweet theme
    “Piggies” or “The Little Mouse, the Big Hungry Bear and the Red Ripe Strawberry”–Audrey and Don Woods-amazing illustrations
    “But Not the Hippopotamus”–my favorite Sandra Boynton
    “The Dot”–Peter H. Reynolds

  3. Hand-me-downs from you to me that I remember:
    Montreal/Madera era
    Asterix and Obelix in both French and English
    Where the Wild Things Are
    a bunch of Suess
    Some Smurf titles

    Saudi-ish timeframe
    Encyclopedia Brown, Hardee Boys

    Pre-teen/ early teen
    I can remember some Popular Mechanics getting passed around
    a Bermuda Triangle book
    Xanth or anything Piers Anthony

    Some books that I was into that you could have cared less about
    XR 75 maintenance manual
    Plymouuth Valiant Manual
    JC Whitney catalog

    Current titles in my house:
    All kinds of Barbie and Disney Princess titles
    Zootles, Puzzle Buzz, NG Kids

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