A Farewell Ode to Board Books

March 5, 2020 § 5 Comments

We are packing up our house to move out for a renovation project. Which means I can no longer ignore the board books still on our shelves, even though my kids, at nine and twelve, are long past paging through them. Only the most beloved of our stash are left, with their faded covers and frayed edges (wait, are those bite marks?). I suppose it is finally time to retire them to a box in the attic, where they’ll sit optimistically until a time when little ones might once again grace our home.

And still. Picking up these books takes me right back to the days of spit up and babble and hair pulling and cuddles so delicious I wondered how I’d ever been happy before. To days when I was so exhausted, I feared I wouldn’t rise to get my screaming infant from her crib. Reading these books to my children sometimes felt like my only lifeline to sanity. A time when a squirming child would succumb to my lap; when the call of laundry and dishes would fade; when alongside my child, I could ride on the back of a rhyme or escape into a picturesque barnyard where everything seemed ordered and wonderful.

There were also those times when one child would be playing in the next room, and the sounds of wooden drums and plastic trucks would suddenly stop; and I’d peek in to see a mess of books, with little hands turning pages and the sweetest voice singing out remembered phrases. Like watching my heart beat outside my body.

So, before I pack up these treasures, stamped indelibly on my heart, I thought I’d bid farewell to a few specific titles, in case you haven’t happened upon them in your own quest for sanity.

Time for Bed
by Mem Fox & Jane Dyer

Farewell, tiniest of board books, which nearly crumbles in my hand now. You were the first book I ever read to my son, beginning the day we brought him home from the hospital and every night afterwards for nearly a year, committed as we were to creating the prescribed ”bedtime ritual.” Yours were the words to which he fell asleep, your soporific appeals to each animal: “It’s time for bed, little foal, little foal,/ I’ll whisper a secret, but don’t tell a soul./ It’s time for bed, little fish, little fish,/ So hold your breath and make a wish.” I wonder now: who was I trying to lure into sleep, him or me?

Where is the Green Sheep?
by Mem Fox & Judy Horacek

Farewell, Green Sheep, I think I’ve loved you most of all. Sometimes the highest praise we parents can give a book is that it never accidentally went missing for a few days (cough, cough). Green Sheep, on my honor, I never tired of reading you. You’re equal parts silly and sensical (as the best children’s books often are). You teach some opposites, a few colors, a little Spanish. You’ve got a mess of super cute sheep parachuting and picnicking about town (plus a train thrown in for good measure). But the best part? You’ve got a rhythm which can’t be beat. “Where is that green sheep? Turn the page quietly—let’s take a peep…Here’s our green sheep, fast asleep.”

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop
by Chris Raschka

Speaking of rhythm, farewell Charlie Parker, who is no longer available in board book form but is still available in paperback and no matter, because I most enjoyed reading you to my babes before they were old enough to rip pages anyway. It took a few tries, but I eventually found my own beat while reading you aloud, and it’s all about the hard consonants at the end of the phrases, which snap and pop like the music of be bop itself. If there is one thing I’ve learned as a parent to little ones, they’re most entertained when we’re most entertained.

Doggies: A Counting and Barking Book and The Going-to-Bed Book
by Sandra Boynton

Farewell, my favorites of the Boynton books. Doggies, some books ask you to up your parenting game, and I think I did you proud. Ten different barks at ten different decimals for ten different dogs—and never once did I fail to elicit an eruption of giggles guaranteed to bring sunshine into the rainiest of days. Going-to Bed-Book, you were my husband’s bedtime book of choice in those early years, and there is nothing sweeter than listening to Daddy read.

Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball
by Charles Fuge

Farewell, whimsical wombat, I’m only sorry you have fallen out of print and that new children will therefore have a harder time discovering you. Why, sometimes I still whisper to my daughter when she climbs into my lap, “Sometimes I like to curl up in a ball,/ so no one can see my because I’m so small.” But mostly I remember how much fun we had chanting together, “Sometimes I like to poke out my tongue,/ Or make funny faces, now that can be fun.”

The Little Train
by Lois Lenski

Farewell, train book I didn’t abhor. I think it’s unfair that the loudest and bossiest of humans are allowed to have such all-consuming obsessions. (But I digress.) If I had to read train books and only train books for a phase which seemed in danger of never ending, I was always glad to read you. Engineer Small, so proud of his black and shiny engine. His train chugged and choo-chooed all over the idyllic countryside, pulling into the station to let people on and off right on schedule. A comforting testament to order and predictability, perfectly contrasted against the chaos of a house ruled by a toddler.

ABC: A Child’s First Alphabet Book
by Alison Jay

Farewell to quite possibly the best alphabet book ever published. First of all, you’re gorgeous. Your dreamy, fanciful paintings—rendered in Alison Jay’s signature “crackle” finish—give you a vintage, nostalgic feel,;and the abundance of yellow infuses you with an almost golden glow. Secondly, the experience of reading you got only more magical as my children aged. At first, we stuck with the simple captions beneath each painting—“a is for apple,” “b is for balloon”—until we realized we could study each picture closely to find lots of other things beginning with that letter (on your balloon page, there is also a ball, butterfly, beehive, and basket). And that’s not even my favorite discovery. I’ll never forget the moment we realized that the main thing featured on each page is actually previewed somewhere on the previous one. Subtle, surprising, stunning seek-and-finding.

I am a Bunny
by Richard Scarry

Farewell, sweet Nicholas, who reminds us that the outside world is ripe with adventure no matter the weather or season. For all the wild popularity of Richard Scarry, few realize he wrote one of the most timeless board books, as adored by our children as it was by my husband and me in the 70s. “I am a bunny. My name is Nicholas. I live in a hollow tree.” In the matter-of-fact language of a child, you narrate the everyday thrills of the seasons: picking flowers in the spring, blowing dandelion seeds into the air, standing beneath swirling leaves in the fall, and watching the snow falling from the sky. Show me a child who isn’t charmed by an overall-clad bunny taking shelter from a rainstorm under a toadstool, and I promise to whack him over the head with you.

Little Gorilla
by Ruth Bornstein

Farewell, Little Gorilla, who often sits in the shadow of the better-known Good Night, Gorilla (Peggy Rathmann) but not in our house. Sure, we loved Good Night, Gorilla, but the lack of a written narrative could drive me a bit batty. Not you. “Once there was a gorilla, and everybody loved him. His mother loved him. His father loved him…Even when he was only one day old, everybody loved Little Gorilla.” Typing that now, I can feel my daughter settling deeper into the story against my chest, ready to hear about her favorite gorilla growing big enough for his first birthday party. Everyone knows that one year olds know a thing or two about birthday cake; and yet, so few stories involve said cake. Not you. You make sure that this gorilla—who by the book’s end has nearly grown off the page—gets his birthday cake and then some.

Much like Little Gorilla, my children have gone and gotten big. But though these books will soon sit in the attic, their legacy lives on in the readers, explorers, singers, and listeners my children have become. (And don’t fret: just because my kids aren’t reading board books anymore doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally review new ones, especially on Instagram.)


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§ 5 Responses to A Farewell Ode to Board Books

  • ednarienzi says:

    Beautiful post, Melissa! And we have so many of the same favorites! But mine are still on our shelves (a high, out of reach one, but still…), and I don’t think I can pack them up. I tell myself that I need them there for my little nephew and niece, but I think I really need them there for me. : )

  • aidantalkin says:

    Many similar ones on our shelves too… I’m keeping them for ME (and grandkids, one day?)! Thank you for the ones I’ve missed; it is never too late to find them on the library shelves.

  • Melissa, thank you for another beautiful post. I can just imagine you and your babies curled up sharing these special stories. I will share this with my niece to help her find some new titles to share with her two babies. I’m sure they’ll find as much joy as your family did!

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