b Papa Dog's Blog: I Can Read it All By Myself

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Sunday, September 05, 2004

I Can Read it All By Myself

Since any child of mine is going to know the joy of reading, god damn it, I’ve tried not to waste much time getting Baby Dog started. Her first experience with literature came about two weeks after she was born, when I picked up the book nearest to hand and read her the first few pages. The book was The Call of the Wild, by Jack London. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the best choice for a two-week-old; no pictures to look at and a lot of big old-fashioned words, but hey, what a humdinger of an opening sentence: “Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.” I remember when my dad read that to me when I was a kid, the little shock of confusion when, halfway through the sentence, it turns out that Buck’s a dog – well of course he doesn’t read the newspapers, he’s a dog! What a lovely, economic demonstration of how to engage an audience by playing with its expectations. It’s never too early to learn that lesson, whether the book has any pictures or no.

Baby Dog has turned out to be a patient and attentive audience, and while we did get about thirty or forty pages into Call of the Wild over several instalments, I eventually set it aside for later days in favour of a storytime programme consisting of as many of our accumulated children’s books as we can get through before fussing commences. Baby Dog really seems to like story time, though, and has been known to sit through the entire collection before undertaking to crank. I already had several copies of Green Eggs and Ham before we spawned – people used to give me copies, probably a consequence of the tattoo on my right shoulder depicting Sam I Am and his grumpy acquaintance at the end of the story, the latter happily dining in emerald ova and pork. This was my absolute all-time favourite book as a child, and naturally I want to offer it to Baby Dog as a possible favourite of her own. One copy of that, then, into the programme. We also have two of P.D. Eastman’s offerings from the Seuss library, Go Dog Go and Are You My Mother? I know I had both of these when I was a tad, but I didn’t really remember much about the Dog book, likely because it really has little in the way of narrative. It’s more a general overview of the relative sizes, numbers, hues, and spatial relationships of dogs in what appears to be a dog town…plus their employment status and the operating status of their motor vehicles. Are You My Mother? is one I remember much more vividly, though I suspect the edition we have might be slightly abridged. It’s a baby-sized version, with thick, glossy, untearable pages, and I think its somewhat altered in form from the original.

We have a copy of The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, by Beatrix Potter, which I think is a remnant of Mama Dog’s childhood. This one’s kind of a fuss risk, because the pictures are very small and not too vividly coloured, and the word-to-image ratio is rather high. Like Call of the Wild, it features some old-fashioned words (someday I know Baby Dog’s going to ask exactly what “sticking plaster” is, and I’m going to have to look it up. I mean, I know it’s what they had back then instead of Band-Aids, but what exactly was it? Like a paste or something?

We also have a couple of rhythmic counting books involving insects, amphibians, and the like. I really kind of enjoy Over in the Meadow, with its insistent iambic meter and its comparatively subtle paintings. I also enjoy the opportunity to teach Baby Dog the correct pronunciation of “shone,” which occurs in the final stanza. She seems to particularly like this one too, maybe because of my enthusiasm for it. Ten Little Ladybugs is less textually substantive and has a lot of crossover in rhymes with Over in the Meadow, but the drawings are very bright and baby-attracting, and the gimmick of the little bugs popping through the holes in the pages is cute.

Similarly gimmicked is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, wherein the titular garden pest chews its way through a variety of fruits and other food items before wrapping itself in a cocoon and later emerging as a butterfly. Ooops, there, I’ve gone and ruined the ending for you. Should have put a spoiler warning in.

The Rainbow Fish strikes me as one of the slightest of the volumes we have, and the pictures seem a little murky despite the title. Doesn’t always seem to hold Baby Dog’s attention. The story is a parable about sharing. It so strongly advocates the redistribution of wealth as a means to personal happiness and communal well-being that I’m surprised it hasn’t yet been denounced in Congress.

One of the most recent additions to our collection is Where the Wild Things Are, of which Mama Dog scored a copy in a recent Amazon binge. I was taken aback the first time I opened it up with Baby Dog and suddenly realised that I had never read it before. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had never read any Maurice Sendak books, though I somehow seem to have been familiar with them for years by some osmotic process. Well, we both loved Where the Wild Things Are. The drawings are gorgeous and the prose is so damn stately that it makes me try to emulate Tom Clancy (the Clancy Brother, not the hack thriller writer) reciting The Host of the Air when I read it to Baby Dog.

There are a few others in our book stack – Good Night Moon, I Know an Old Lady, Pat the Bunny, maybe a couple others that escape me now. We also recently received a few very tactile volumes from a friend, things made of cloth, meant to be handled as much as read. What are your favourites, from childhood or parenthood? Recommendations welcome. Later.


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