Sunday, May 13, 2012

Kids & books

     I'm always fascinated by what kids are reading, and lately, they're all reading The Hunger Games. On one hand, it's great that kids have a book that they're really hooked on, and that they're not just sitting around playing Call of Duty. (And plenty of kids DON'T read at all, and ARE just sitting around playing video games.)  On the other hand, they're reading a trilogy that's a very dark and disturbing, futuristic story. I can see high school kids reading it, but elementary age? 
        However, I know one boy in 4th grade named Jose`. He's very bright, and does extremely well academically. And guess what he's reading? He's devouring Beverly Cleary books, starting with Henry Huggins. So here we have a Hispanic boy in 2012 reading books that were written in the 1950s about kids that lived and played on Klickitat Street. He's basically reading about my childhood, and that world really doesn't exist anymore.
       When my son David was 2 months old, I started reading to him....or rather just showing him pictures in very simple children's books. When Ray came along, David was 2 1/2, and we were reading lots of stories, all the time. So being the second child, Ray was always along for the ride. Basically, books became something to comfort them, because reading was such a peaceful & cozy activity. We read great children's literature while they were growing up....what's wittier than A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh? What illustrations are more elegant than those of Babar? What's more exciting than C. S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe? The boys loved all of E.B. White's wonderful stories, and so did I. Ray loved all of the hilarious Ramona books, even though he was a boy. (She was my favorite childhood character). And when Harry Potter hit the scene, David and Ray were right there, in line with all the other bookish kids waiting for their copy. And of course since their dad is a writer, the boys grew up going to book signings. Portrait of a Bookstore, owned by Frank and Julie von Zerneck in Los Angeles was their home away from home, and they always felt welcome to just read and browse. Now that the boys are in their 20s, they always have a stack of books by their beds, or one stuck somewhere in a backpack.
I feel bad when I see kids that have no interest in all these great books and stories....does it just mean that they were never read to, and therefore don't have that association of total bliss and coziness?
     I'm collecting vintage children's books now, and am trying to get as many different copies of Black Beauty as I can. It was my favorite book growing up, and I truly think it formed me as a child. I just got a brand new, gorgeous Penguin edition of it to add to my antique copies. In her forward, Jane Smiley says, "What I got was what every reader of Black Beauty gets: an experience of almost uncanny empathy that went so deep into my memory that even now, after fifty years, I almost cannot read Anna Sewell's novel or think of it without tearing up".
 I just think readers are lucky because they're never, ever alone. Most are always in the middle of some book, and thinking about the next one...and have a story that they're just dying to get back to. So no matter what you're doing or working on during the day, you know that your book is there waiting for you...maybe at the top of a stack by your bed or favorite reading chair.