Posted by Sheila Connolly

Img009My sister's son produced an heir just over a year ago: Carter Matthew Payne. Since my daughter is a long way from even contemplating offspring, this darling young man (whom I have not yet met) is my sole connection to the next generation. This year he is old enough to be interested in books, mainly for the pretty pictures and for how they taste. But it is never too early to cultivate an interest in reading, so to provide him an ample supply for Christmas I set forth to a very large bookstore, armed with two pages of helpful suggestions from some of my on-line writer buddies. Let me put in a shameless plug for The New England Mobile Book Fair (New England Mobile Book Fair), a privately-owned local bookstore which has thousands and thousands of books, floor to ceiling, at a very good price–and they are kind enough to employ my daughter.

Talk about a schizophrenic experience. This place is huge, so it has almost any book you can hope to find. Several editions, in fact–you can get large, small, hard, soft, fuzzy; with or without CD; read by the author or read by someone famous. A little overwhelming. But what intrigued me is the fact that so many of the books I remember from my childhood, and from the childhood of my twenty-something child, are still there in great numbers–and then there's a whole new crop which I've never seen or heard of.

I still have the first book I remember: Read Me More Stories (compiled by the Child Study Association of America). In fact, I have it in my hand (another example of my amazing filing system. Not. I have been keeping it with my antiquarian books–ha!). The inscription indicates it was given to me on my third birthday, and I'm hard-pressed to say how soon after that I actually learned to read. But I know my mother read to me, and when I learned Img010 how, I read it again and again. It came with black-and-white illustrations by Barbara Cooney, which left a real imprint on me–and to which I felt free to add my own embellishments (note the mouse at the bottom left).

I had long forgotten that it includes the story, "The Runaway Bunny" by Margaret Wise Brown (1942)–which I just bought another copy of yesterday for Carter. I knew it sounded familiar when I read it to my daughter, twenty years ago, but it took me a while to make the connection. One story that always stuck in my mind was "Surprise Around the Corner" by Corinna Marsh. It's about a family who has moved into a new house (something we did a lot when I was young, which might explain why it appealed to me). The family moves in after dark, and the next morning Mommy takes Jimmy for a walk, to do some errands. They walk for quite a while, stopping at the post office and the market, and every time they turn a new corner, Jimmy asks, "Will there be a surprise around this corner?" And Mommy replies, "There's always a surprise around every corner."

Poor little Jimmy is getting rather tired and cranky by the end of this, but at last they turn one more corner–and they're back where they started from, at their new home. ("And there was Daddy running down the street to meet them and help them carry their shopping bags home!") I read it when I was young and was reassured by the idea that if you turn enough corners, you'll come home again. I read it now and see a snapshot of an idyllic suburban life that may or may not exist any more–but home is still waiting at the end.

I seem to remember both the words and the images equally. And in shopping yesterday, I found I was looking for books that strike a good balance. Okay, Carter is a bit young to read (don't worry–I bought some books with nothing but cute pictures), but Mom and Dad will read the books to him, and I wanted to find language and rhythms that are simple and memorable, so that Carter can fall in love with the sounds as well as the pictures. I ended up buying a mix of old books and new–those I remember and those that have come along since. And it's good to know that I have years and years ahead where I can go back to a bookstore and pick something new for him, to introduce him to the wonderful world of reading. Merry Christmas, Carter!

What's the first book you remember?

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