I am lucky enough to be sitting here composing my latest post while being accompanied by the most amazing live soundtrack – my friend Mekhla practicing Bach and Beethoven. I’m really loving reading and writing to music at the moment, as I wrote about before…
Anyway, back to books. I have been dipping into board books at work (my old work!) for the last week, reading some of the classic children’s books that so many people recognise and love from their childhood, and come in and ask for. I think picture books, even more so than other children’s books, hold a great deal of nostalgia. This is probably due to how many times we are read them as a child. Children ask for their favourite picture books night after night, sometimes to the chagrin of their parents, and get to know them so well that they can practically recite them off by heart. There are picture books that I have flicked through while shelving them, not knowing that I even read them or had them read to me as a child, and a phrase, or a picture, catches my eye, and I somehow know, even though I had completely forgotten about it, that I had been read that book when I was younger.
No matter our relationship with books now, whether we read religiously or only dip into the latest reading fad, remember and cherish picture books we were read as a child. People who come in to buy a present for a child they barely know, and who tell me they don’t really read but were told to buy a picture book as a gift, seem to melt and start cooing when they spot an old favourite from when they were a child. ‘I can’t believe this is still around!’ they say, ‘I love this book!’ (Note the use of present tense – you never grow out of reading picture books)
One of my colleagues, Alberto, who now lives in Melbourne so I unfortunately don’t work with him any more, loved Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson. It was one of his all time favourites. It is also on the 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up list, so he must not be the only little boy who loved the story of three owl babies waiting for their mother to fly home to them. I think I may have been read the story when I was little, but I’m not sure.
I remember one day a woman at the store asking me for a picture book on owls, so I immediately showed her Owl Babies. ‘Oh no,’ she
said, ‘the pictures are far too dreary. They are not very nice at all. Don’t you have anything a bit more cheerful?’
Alberto, who was working at the counter just up the steps from picture books, went livid. He didn’t say anything, of course, he was not happy. How dare someone insult one of his favourite childhood memories?
I think this is one of the most interesting aspects of picture books. What appeals to an adult (a story with a moral, beautiful pictures, lovely characters) isn’t necessarily what appeals to a child. An adult might find the pictures of three white owls waiting in the dark to be dreary, but to Alberto, they were three fuzzy friends. Because picture books become friends. And that is why when we visit them, years or even decades later, we greet them like old friends, and act like hardly a day has gone by.