The Family Bookshelf


I have talked about the prominence of books in our household and the importance of having them around. I wanted to share with you some of our enduring favorites, and I encourage you to share some of your own.

Many people have pets they consider to be family members. We have a cat (she is named Jenny Linsky, from a book), and she’s pretty great. But we have many books we consider to be part of the family as well. Here are a few.

  • Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire were a married couple who worked as a team, writing and illustrating an array of books ranging from Norse and Greek myths to rather eccentric and charming biographies of such figures as Benjamin Franklin, Abe Lincoln and Christopher Columbus. I had the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths checked out for the entirety of my elementary school career. Because I was a rule follower, and properly intimidated by librarians (what could be worse than losing library privileges?), I would return it when it was due and, when no one else had snagged it by the end of the school day, check it out again. I read every page and pored over every lively, sometimes bizarrely vivid drawing so many times that they took up permanent residence in my brain: for example, the spectacle of Athena springing fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus (leading me to believe that headaches could produce children). Eventually I moved on to junior high, and no longer had access to the book. After much persistent hinting my parents bought me my own copy. I have since purchased it at least three more times, and it is a favorite of my children as well.
  • Another childhood favorite of mine was more obscure and has entered rotation among my kids largely due, I think, to my enthusiasm for it. Mercer Mayer is known today for his series of Little Critter books, which can still be found in bookstores and classrooms alongside the Berenstain Bears and, more recently, that tragically ambitious pigeon. But my jam was Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-A-Zoo, in which a very small professor with a very long mustache ranges over land and sea and finally underground to find an elusive creature which (spoiler) turns out to live in his house and which comes out to play only when the professor has given up and fallen asleep. I had to scour the shelves of Powell’s for a few years before I finally came across it again. As a child I loved the incredible amount of activity in the margins of the pictures, the countless little stories and monster-human interactions that only a patient eye can catch; it is a book that makes you feel as if you have been rewarded for really looking.
  • Probably the most famous author of closely-looking-at books is Richard Scarry. Titles like What Do People Do All Day? and Busy, Busy Town are crammed with all sorts of animals driving all sorts of cars—many shaped like food, or other animals—and living all sorts of intriguing lives. As much as I loved poring over these as a child, I learned to appreciate them even more when a college professor pointed out that Richard Scarry was a master of presenting information in a nonlinear way: here the complexity and richness of life in the city is organized not in a story or mere descriptions but in a tangle of interactions and causes and effects (they sure crash into each other a lot) that go in all directions at once.
  • One of our very favorite authors is someone I missed as a child, possibly because I was too much a boy. Barbara Cooney wrote and illustrated books through a period of nearly half a century, and in our family the most treasured of all is Miss Rumphius. I appreciate it for the way it tells the story of a girl who grows up into a woman, lives a rich and fulfilling life, and eventually grows old, in a way that most children’s books avoid. She hurts her hip riding a camel, for example, and later gets sick and is bed-ridden for a whole year (she gets better). Cooney’s style of illustration is a major influence on my daughters’ artwork. It is a rare picture book that I feel I can get as much out of as an adult as my children do.

What are some favorite books in your family? What do you have to recommend?