Theres a bookshelf in my home office that might make you question my sanity, if not my age. Its crowded with titles like Madeline and the Bad Hat, The Polar Express, Green Eggs and Ham, Eloise Goes to Paris, Little Women, Alices Adventures in Wonderland, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series.
Some are worn around the edges. Others are brand-new replacements of old favorites I read as a child. Several belonged to my son, now grown, who will get them back when he has a home of his own someday.
Nestled around these books are nostalgic toys and dolls, including the infamous Thing One and Thing Two from Dr. Seusss The Cat in the Hat. When I bought my blue-haired “Things” before Christmas last year, I swore Id give them to my little nephew in New Jersey. But then I changed my mind. Im not always good about sharing my toys.
My kids bookshelf has become an altar in the true sense of the word. It pays homage to the stories and characters that made me fall in love with reading. Every time I sit down to work, Im reminded that literature can inspire kids to overcome challenges, explore new ideas, and even grow up to be writers.
And heres the craziest part: Ive never outgrown these books. Sometimes, when Im feeling stuck or uninspired, I revisit their pages.
Way out at the end of a tiny little town was an old overgrown garden, and in the garden was an old house, and in the house lived Pippi Longstockingâ€¦
So begins my all-time favorite tale by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren.
An only child and a little too sensitive, I was at the critical juncture between childhood and early adolescence when a grade-school teacher introduced me to red-haired Pippi. By todays standards Pippi would need Ritalin, but I wanted to be exactly like her.
She was certifiably wacky — the first free spirit Id encountered. I admired the way she bent rules and colored outside the lines, yet always handled the consequences with charm and tact. Best of all, Pippi lived by herself at Villa Villekulla, managing quite nicely with her own horse and a pet monkey.
Pippi was indeed a remarkable child. The most remarkable thing about her was that she was so strong. She was so very strong that in the whole wide world there was not a single police officer as strong as she!
My love affair with the printed word has pulled me through some of the toughest times in my life. When I was recovering from hip surgery, for instance, books eased my pain and helped me take flight — even when my legs didnt work. Books helped me heal and grow strong, though I never figured out how to lift a horse like Pippi did.
Last Tuesday was the 100th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, the beloved Dr. Seuss. Since 1998, the National Education Association has used the authors birthday to launch its Reading Across America program. And this month, schools, bookstores and libraries will host numerous activities to get kids excited about reading.
But you dont need a formal program to get started. Round up some kids — your own or a neighbors — and read your childhood favorites aloud with them. Arrange an impromptu field trip to your local library. Find a character your kids can relate to, and help them learn more about its author.
As Aldous Huxley once wrote, “Everyone who knows how to read has it in their power to magnify themselves, to multiply the ways in which they exist, to make their life full, significant, and interesting.”
Books do change lives. And thats worth celebrating any day of the year. – Cindy La Ferle, March 7, 2004
This column was excerpted from my essay collection, Writing Home, and is available in local shops and on Amazon.com. See the link at the top of this page for ordering information.