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July 29, 2003

Ten Things I Like About Being A Parent


I’ve decided to (in my own small way) to imitate Charley B and do ten posts about things I enjoy as a parent. One of them is spending time with children’s books that I liked as a kid.

No doubt as a tribute to the purchasing power of the boomer generation, it turns out that many of the children’s books that I read (or were read to me or to my little sister) are still available for purchase at your local Toys’R’Us or Barnes and Noble. So I’ve had a chance to shamelessly indulge in nostalgia for the world of my pre-school days as I read to my son each night.

Once I find a route back into these long lost days, I am always shocked to discover how large a portion of my inner life they take up. A friend of mine once remarked that there are only three real intervals in our lives: the time before we went to school, the time while we were in school, and the rest of our lives—each of which is, subjectively, exactly the same length of time.

I find it quite remarkable how reading these books can bring home the feeling of a whole era (in my case, the latter Fifties and very early Sixties.) It’s as though these books contain the DNA of a whole culture, which they distill down to—what? An attitude? A stance? A gesture? (Doesn’t the Cat in the Hat, balancing tens of items while balancing on a ball, summon up something terribly characteristic of America in the time of the Kennedy Administration? To say nothing of the Cat’s multi-armed “tidying up” machine that puts everything perfectly in its place seconds before the arrival of Mother? It’s as if the whole zeitgeist of the very early Sixties is being accurately yet gently parodied.)

Anyway, I’ve also noticed that my interest in these books tends to be more in the illustrations rather than in the text. For example, in the 1958 classic, “A Fly Went By,” I’m only slightly amused by the clever but rather mechanical poetry of Mike McClintock; but I’m very intrigued by the illustrations, which are vigorously rendered by the illustrator, Fritz Siebel. The swing and gestural energy of his figures is rendered with a muscular rhythm that’s quite satisfying, and many of his compositions are remarkably gratifying. Every time I look at them my fingers start itching to grab a pencil and start doodling animation-style figures, a genre which hits one of the fundamental sweet spots of the graphic imagination. And I realize that my response is identical to the one I had when I read this book (was read this book?) over forty years ago.

Now These Are Compositions!

Of course, for me, this particular book is doubly rewarding because the main character could be a sort of cartoon portrait of my red-haired two-year-old son.

Spiritual Portraits of Friedrich the Younger

I’ve sworn to respect my son's privacy to the extent of not plastering his picture all over this ‘blog, but—speaking as a completely non-objective observer—it’s really hard to stick to this resolve because he’s so darn cute. (I still have some of his bearskin rug photos on my office door at work). You should check these pictures out because they may be the only glimpse you’ll catch of him until he makes the cover of People Magazine in 2022 as the World’s Sexiest Man.



posted by Friedrich at July 29, 2003


Friedrich, I can remember plots, illustrations and where I was when I read them of the books I devoured as a child. I still aspire to draw as well as the illustrator of the "Billy and Blaze" series. And I can remember Captain Kangaroo reading Mike Mulligan to us on the TV. Maybe you should do a post about what books folks remember from childhood.....

Posted by: Deb on July 29, 2003 10:13 AM

I second Deb, but my reason is because I've got almost no memory of what I read as a child. Tom Swift. A little Dr. Seuss. Ummmm. Yet I was a big reader, apparently. I do remember being very suspicious of the kind of fiction the school librarian urged on kids ... Do you find that you remember these books in advance? Or do the memories come back as you read them?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 29, 2003 10:27 AM

I wouldn't sweat the memory loss, Michael--I wouldn't have spent a minute looking at these books (in the ordinary course of events) except that my parenting duties propelled me to do so. If you would go to a Barnes and Noble store and check out the "golden oldies" section of the children's books, I think you'd remember more of them than you'd think.

Hmmm, Deb, the books I remember from childhood are probably a pretty idiosyncratic bunch once you get beyond Dr. Suess, but I'll give it some thought.

One other question: did your parents ever share books they had read as a child with you? I remember those as truly exotic, probably because they came with the inescapable notion that my parents had themselves once been children, which was pretty mind blowing to me at the age of, say, five. I remember my father showing me a book about "Small Fry and the Winged Horse" which was a beautifully illustrated storybook from the 1920s(?): it seemed perfumed with strange vibrations of the past when I looked at it around 1960.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on July 29, 2003 11:32 AM

I tend to recall the books in advance--it's what drives me to get them for the kids. I was totally delighted to find the "Snip,Snap and Snurr" in the library when we were still reading picture books. And now that they are in middle an high school, I get them the books I read over and over during those years.

I was fortunate to have a mother who went every payday to the bookstore next to where she worked and bought me books, usually classics, that she read as a child. And a father, who never read himself, but took me regularly to the library so I could check out books. And to get a horrific case of mono in 6th grade which forced me out of gym and recess for a whole school year and into the school library where I spent my time reading to my heart's content.

Posted by: Deb on July 29, 2003 01:32 PM

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