Posted by: laughs4dads | April 28, 2010

Throw the Book at Her

From a very early age, my daughter, Casey, took a great interest in books.

She didn’t particularly like reading, and still doesn’t today at age 23. But she loved to sit in my lap or Barbara’s and have a book read to her. And since this was supposed to instill a love of reading, who were we to argue?

We bought all the classics like Grover’s Resting Places, How Many Bugs in a Box? and the entire series of Spot books featuring the lovable puppy in all sorts of misadventures as he searches for concealed friends.  This was fun for Casey, who enjoyed lifting all the flaps to find Spot’s hidden friends, but I kept waiting for old Spot to get the hint, to figure out that there was surely some reason why everyone was hiding from him.  SPOILER ALERT! He never does.

In the beginning, Casey was only interested in these kind of interactive books.  You know, all those books that do something.  They pop up, or slide, or flap.  Casey soon discovered that all of these volumes did something else, too.  They tore.

How Many Bugs in a Box? is an ingenious book wherein each page has a differently decorated crate containing varying amounts of whimsical insects, like noodle bugs and fish bugs, which pop up when you “open” the boxes.  Over time, however, Casey removed bugs from their crates and deposited them around the house.  After awhile, we didn’t even know any more what type of bug there was supposed to be nine of, and the number of saw-toothed bugs had been reduced from ten to two, two and a half if you counted the bodiless saw that was steadfastly clinging to the page.

We also had five or ten alphabet books, most of which had some form of pop-ups, all of which used animals to illustrate the letters.  I thought that the authors of these books should form a committee and petition a zoological society to use a bit more imagination when naming animals.  There are some letters, like “A” (alligator, aardvark, anteater, ape) and “C” (camel, crocodile, cow, cat), that hold a full range of choices for alphabet book writers.  But when you get down to the end of the list, you run into some real trouble.  “Y” and “Z” are always yak and zebra.  “X” leaves writers in a terrible dilemma; they usually find some clever way of spelling “fox” or “ox” backwards.  One enterprising author came up with the rare x-ray fish.  By far the most surprising letter is “U,” which, apparently, is not the first letter of any animal on earth.  Mythology, however, gave writers an out; there is always the unicorn to fall back on.  And the same people who brought us the x-ray fish created the near-extinct blue umbrella bird.

Come on all you animal-namers.  Get with it!

Of all Casey’s books, my favorite was one that had sheet music for kid’s songs.  And it came with its very own vinyl microchip keyboard, color-keyed to the music.  I could actually play this book and the whole family could sing along to “Three Blind Mice,” “Humpty Dumpty,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and other all-time hits. It was kind of an ancient ancestor of Guitar Hero. Because I have absolutely no musical ability, I got a kick out of being about to play discernible tunes.  Sometimes, I even imagined I was on a stage in Madison Square Garden, with thousands of fans screaming.  “Play ‘Jack and Jill!'” they’d yell.  Or “Do ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb!'”

When Casey got a little older, she started to like real books.  Well, they still had maybe six words on a page and big pictures, but at least they didn’t do anything.  She enjoyed Babar the Elephant, Curious George and Pinocchio.  Barb and I didn’t read the text to her; we simply described the pictures and answered her questions.  “This?” she’d say, and we’d have to tell her what “this” was.  Pinocchio (or, as Casey so adorably called it, “Nokyo”) provided our first acting opportunity.  She liked to have the reader play the role of this villainous guy with a beard.  It was a bit part, to be sure, but I for one took it seriously.  I experimented with a variety of vocal timbres before I found the deep, resonant voice Casey preferred.  “‘Don’t come back here making a nuisance of yourself,'” I read, and Casey would smile in appreciation of my performance.

One more thing about books and babies.  They get attached to certain books the same way they do to toys, which is to say, you’ll find yourself reading the same ones over and over again.  This gets excruciatingly boring, especially since they tend not to have what you’d call surprise endings in the first place.  But you can’t let on that you’re bored.  Each time you read the book, your voice has to have all the excitement it did the first time you read Spot’s First Walk.

“How can you do this?” you ask.  Use your imagination.  As you read, pretend that someone has come into your house during the night and altered the contents of the books, so that it’s not a turtle hiding under that rug anymore.  You don’t know what it is.  Maybe it’s a snail now.  Or a blowfish.  Or that x-ray fish from the other book. You see how much more involved you are now?  It’s just like reading a real mystery!

A word of warning, though.  This technique doesn’t work with alphabet books.  That “Z” is going to be a zebra no matter how much you pretend otherwise.




  1. You forgot “Goodnight Moon”. We wore out a few copies of that book!

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