Books are to be devoured! In Maurice Sendak's illustration at the beginning of "Once Upon a Time," two "wild things" are about to devour a stack of children's classics with the greatest of glee.
I didn't always share their feelings. When I was in the third grade, I proudly told my parents that I was going to have a house with only one book in it when I grew up! I was in the second lowest reading group and I hated to read.
Yet here I am reviewing a delightful book in which many of the greatest and most popular children's authors and illustrators, like Beverly Cleary, Arnold Lobel, Shel Silverstein, James Marshall, Steven Kellogg, Jean Fritz, the Berenstains and Dr. Seuss, share their love of reading in pictures, stories and personal vignettes. Totally awesome!
I was lucky. My parents read me lots of books, and the summer before fourth grade I went three times a week to the home of a severe, exacting, retired teacher who taught me how to read with ease. Each day of my life I realize anew how lucky I am. Each day as a children's librarian is full of magic and hope.
Reading is a family affair. Judy Blume's mother took her to the library where she found "Madeline" so irresistible that she hid it under the bed. I bet Tomie de Paola's parents laughed when they discovered the stories and pictures he had drawn on the sheets of his bed. Playing games of anagrams with her mother nourished Natalie Babbit's love for the alphabet.
In a charming piece, Trina Hyman tells how she was a "strange little girl, terrified of anything and everything that moved or spoke." After her mother read her "Little Red Riding Hood" and made her a little red cape, Trina fearlessly confronted the wolf (her dog, Tippy). "I was Red Riding Hood for a year or more. I think it's a great tribute to my mother that she never gave up and took me to a psychiatrist, and if she ever worried, she never let me know."
Jamake Highwater's family gave him an oral tradition of Indian folklore that taught him to "be strong of heart . . . be patient . . . but above all learn to dream."
Illustrator Ed Young never forgets his father, dressed in his Ukrainian hat and Chinese robe, reading him "The Three Musketeers" and "The Happy Prince."
The modest, black middle-class homes of Ashley Bryan and Virginia Hamilton were rich in music and books and conversation.
Considered slow by her teachers, unpopular and angry as a child, Katherine Clements Womeldorf grew up to be Katherine Paterson, the author of a wonderful ugly duckling novel, "Jacob Have I Loved," partly because she saw herself in books about other misfits. Paterson says, "I learned that reading can be a road to freedom or a key to a secret garden, which, if tended, will transform all of life."
Share this book with a child! Barbara Helen Berger's sunny portrait of two girls reading while leaning against the back of a golden, luminous lion and the Leo and Diane Dillon illustrations reminiscent of Maxfield Parrish are particularly evocative. Imagine the spine-tingling delight of Edward Corey's sketch of a little girl reading about bears as a huge bear silently peers over her shoulder.
The illustrations are incredible! Unfortunately they have been inadequately identified. The viewer might like to know who created each picture and what other things this artist has done. Another loss is that while the brief prose excerpts whet the reader's appetite, there are no references to other books by the authors.
The contributors to this books, and its readers, are the fortunate ones. Someone inspired them to a love of reading. Not all children are so lucky.
Twenty years ago an organization was founded to bring books to children without books. It was R.I.F., Reading Is Fundamental. A gentle giant among writer-illustrations, Tomie de Paola, conceived of "Once Upon a Time" as a way to celebrate R.I.F.'s 20th anniversary. The proceeds from this book will go to R.I.F. If you buy a copy for yourself or for some other lucky person, you will be helping to put a book into the hands of a child who has never owned one.