The Very Hungry Caterpillar & other books I loved as a kid

Friday, May 11, 2012

...and still love now.

I have been thinking about the books from my childhood that I loved since hearing of the very sad passing of the brilliant Maurice Sendak. (This beautiful interview from last year is well worth listening to.)

I think in a lot of ways the books I was first exposed to as a little kid were the greatest - when I read now, it's always with a critical eye. I don't reread books now because I hardly have time. I am always thinking about everything too, too much. Whereas when I was five, reading was about pure enjoyment. I read or had books read to me over and over again, until I knew the words by heart. Individual books were really special to me in a way that I rarely feel with more grown-up books. It was also a wonderful thing to share reading with other people. We should all read to other people more often. And this enthusiasm I had for these glorious books was what planted the seed of an idea to write stories myself.

So here are some of the more adored picture books of my childhood (which was not all that long ago, really - I was obsessed with these in the late nineties):

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
I think this is probably a favourite childhood book of everyone born in the last forty years, but only because it is truly brilliant. It brought me sheer joy as a child. I loved the cut-outs from the pages (one of the greatest things about books for small children are the inclusion of shapes and textures and so forth... why do we get rid of these? I want more art in books for teenagers, too!), and the lists of food, and the transformation most of all (the anticipation of the page-turn, and then 'into a butterfly!' I have very clear recollections of this being read to me). Recently I was tempted to buy Very Hungry Caterpillar wall decals. I may still.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch by Ronda & David Armitage
What I remember really loving about this book - loving to the point the book fell apart - was probably the food. The wife of the lighthouse keeper sends her husband his lunch by a flying fox-type contraption every day, and seagulls eat it before it can reach him. Those little drawings of the lighthouse keeper's sandwiches were my favourite part. I can't even remember how or even whether they outsmart the seagulls, but gosh I like a packed lunch.

Clarice Bean, That's Me by Lauren Child
I was quite convinced at the age of six that Lauren Child was actually a child. I think because her drawings seemed child-like. It also seemed logical that someone with the surname Child must be a child. Now we have Wikipedia, I have discovered she was actually born in 1965, which is a terrible disappointment. I thought she was a prodigy. I always liked that there was a lot going on in the pictures.

Shirley Barber's Bedtime Stories
I don't believe this classifies as a picture book, but I very much loved these fairy stories when I was little. I remember reading a Shirley Barber poem at a school talent contest when I was five or six. I could probably add 'perfomance poet' to my resume now. I also remember being part of an interpretive dance duo around the same time. I was an awesome child. I still have a number of her 100-piece fairy puzzles. I could probably write a lot on the subject of my childhood love of puzzles, but that would just be off-topic. I had a lot of Shirley Barber storybooks (I still have them) and one of my favourite stories was about a small fluffy mammal with a shoemaking business in the hollow of a tree. I did quite like anthomorphism.

Possum Magic by Mem Fox
Possum Magic is glorious and unashamedly Australian and one of the better things to come out of the 80s. It is just wonderful. The more I think about picture books I loved as a kid, the longer the list gets (My Cat Maisy by Pamela Allen! ALL of the Hairy McClary from Donaldson's Dairy books!), despite the fact that I have a terrible memory, which shows the impact books have had on me. I can hardly remember events that happened when I was five, but I can tell you about the books I read! (If only because I read them hundreds of times.)

Oh, and here is one of many very lovely Maurice Sendak quotes, to wrap up:
So, tell me, what were your favourite childhood picture books?
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