on apply dapply, mr. pricklepin and the love of books

disclaimer: once and awhile, i will appoint myself an expert on something. i will then pretend to be the obi wan of said subject, throw caution to the wind and let passion override as i wax on…and on…and on. ’tis one of those once-and-awhiles. it began as a trip to the library yesterday and ended in a dissertation on children’s literature. forgive me. i didn’t realize these emotions existed so strongly until i started writing.

a dissertation on children’s literature.

i have a confession.

i went into teaching mostly because i wanted to read books aloud to kids everyday.

it paid more than the story lady at barnes & noble, and i ignorantly didn’t realize until i got my first job that there’s other stuff you kind of have to do in your classroom besides read aloud to your kids all day. like prepping them for fcat. and math. uuugh.

which is not to say i didn’t stretch my after-lunch read-aloud session as long as i could…always pretending to hesitate when the kids begged me to read another chapter after i finished one…even going to the extreme of taking off my glasses, nestling a bookmark where we left off and closing the crinkly pages…almost completely…until i’d smile, reopen…and continue reading.

chapter fourteen…”

…and the students would all breathe a sigh of relief, lying their sweaty back-from-recess heads again to their desks for another relaxing entrancing chapter…as if they’d won the battle when really i was fully intending to continue reading the entire time. because i loved it.

i fell in love with children’s books long ago…from the first time the boxcar children was read to me…no, take that back…it was little bear and huddling in a corner in a tawas, michigan cabin on vacation, studying it over and over, all by myself, until i realized–i could read every word on my own. and i’ve always been driven to the children’s section over the adults, although sometimes embarrassed to admit it. teaching research, i told myself.

i fell in love all over again when i took children’s lit in college and found myself drooling in my uncomfortable desk chair in the little classroom in the basement of the whiteman-gibbs science center, completely bewitched listening to mr. esterline, a very dapper gray-haired retired teacher who wore argyle vests and crisp khakis, charismatically yet calmly bring to life the words of dr. suess’ hooray for diffendendoofer day. he had a bit of a spitty lisp, but it totally worked to his advantage as the p‘s and the d‘s and the k‘s came out so succinct…so tart.

i too can read like mr. esterline, i thought. i too can spit my k‘s and p‘s.

then came my obsession with the books themselves. some read aloud better than others, you know. and not just for the choice and arrangement of words. there’s lots to consider. the kind of paper the pages are made out of. how well they lift and turn when you lick your finger and grab the corner. how old they are. how heavy the covers are (paper? pshaw. must be hardback). and the epitome of a good read-aloud: a library hammy-down. for it, the holy grail, the golden chalice of a meant-to-be-read-aloud piece of literature not only has an old plastic overlay that crinkles just so, but the pages are soaked with the essence of library. the perfume of all the years it spent nestled between other books, gathering scents of old leather, worn paper, printed ink. and the stories these books hold from the houses they went home to…i wonder, how many children did these books entertain on a cold snow-day home from school? how many moms’ potroast scents did their bindings pick up while their pages were being turned on an idle sunday afternoon? how many children learned the lesson of guilt and responsibility when they finally gained the courage to face the librarian with their long-overdue book and handful of late-fee change from keeping it too long?

and then the words. oh, the words. some lending their stoires to be read with great character voices; others dripping with captivating onomatopoeia and smooth alliteration. the title alone of beatrix potter’s the tale of the pie and the patty-pan. seriously…it’s witchcraft. and while i’m on the beatrix potter path, let me just say her imaginative names for characters and the way their sounds roll off your tongue make me wish i could have shared a waffle or two over coffee with her…apply dapply, mr. pricklepin, diggory delvet, mrs. tiggy-winkle, cecily parsley, jemima puddle-duck. it’s no wonder with an imagination like that, she was a literary genius.

i find myself getting frustrated sometimes when lainey’s shortened attention span wants to turn pages prematurely and point to frogs and yellow things when i’m trying to do a good mole impersonation from wind and the willows or teach her a love of adjectives from the way i annunciate the description of the flowering meadow. oh, how i yearn for the day she will let me read, without interruption, the words of wind and the willows from the gold-rimmed indian paper pages of the hard bound little book i bought when she was just a newborn with this very dream in mind:

(copyright material from kenneth grahame’s the wind and the willows)

hither and thither through the meadows he rambled busily, along hedgerows, across the copses, finding everwhere birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting–everything happy, and progressive, and occupied…he thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. never in his life had he seen a river before–this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. all was a-shake and a-shiver–glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble.

now if all children’s books were written like that, perhaps we would have a whole broad of writers on hand for our next generation. i so want lainey to learn and use words like aimlessly and sinuous and meandered and to be challenged by the old writers as well as be entertained by the new.

illustrations, of course, are a bonus, but i am highly critical. i remember both my mom and dad getting excited about illustrators when we were young and, to this day, my mom searches goodwills for vintage copies of out-of-print illustrated favorites–eloise wilkin taking the grand prize with her simple representation of cherubic cheeks, pink pinafores, mary janes and bobby socks…

…and the japanese illustrator, komako sakai, whose book emily’s balloon holds lainey’s attention before nap for the entire story with no premature page turning, thank you. that is, of course, because the balloon is yellow, yellow is her favorite color, and there is a picture of emily going to sleep with her yellow balloon adorned in a nightcap snuggled next to her which lainey thinks is very funny indeed.

and, not that you asked…but while i’m on it, my favorite illustrators…

mike wimmer…the illustrator of my favorite children’s book of all time, all the places to love. if you don’t have it, you must, must get it if not just for the very first illustration of a new mama under a detailed quilt in an old farmhouse holding her babe…

and jim lamarche…the way he creates light and the illustrator of the rainbabies, another favorite…completely imaginative and so well-illustrated. lainey loves the tiny babies in it and reaches her hands out to hold them every time.

and finally…any brambly hedge book which, after reading…i promise, you will want to be a mouse and live in a tree. (may i suggest the secret staircase or winter story). not to mention, these books are available in hardback mini size…and mini is always good.

(oh, and can’t leave out cynthia rylant’s let’s go home: the wonderful things about a house.)

with all that said, we went to the library yesterday, and while we love to frequent it, our trips are a little more spaced out than i like. then again…it makes them very special when we go. our library, although beautiful, is very new and very nicely built, nothing like the true character of a real library…the old ones. my most favorite library was one my mom used to take us to every couple weeks when we were homeschooled. taymouth township library it was called, just over the railroad tracks in the little town of burt, michigan. the same railroad tracks i remember my sister getting stuck on when she was learning to drive a stick-shift. so stuck, she cried until my mom had to switch seats with her and get us over the track-covered hump lest we died in a fiery crash.

the taymouth township library was an old house turned into a garden of books where the floor creaked under the worn carpet. there were hidden nooks and cubbies, beanbags on the floor, lamps in corners, and lots of places to get lost in the quiet of a good book. i imagine it’s still there today and i’m sure they still use the old card catalogue and hand stamp due dates onto index cards that slide into little paper gloves. yes, that was a real library (much like a real bookstore…say the fictional the shop around the corner from you’ve got mail, a far cry from the monopolized borders and such).

so yesterday we read. we meandered down aisles of colored-binded treasures and pulled out random ones that we read in big rocking chairs and little cushioned benches.

and i smiled as she ran her little painted fingers along the old pages of books that were far too old for her.

someday i will read these to her in a dark lamp-lit room while she’s snuggled under quilts falling asleep to the words of anne of green gables or betsy-tacey and tib. i hope it lasts far through middle school.

for now, we have our growing collection of hardback treasures…

while she has her own accessible shelves stocked with board books and tough picture books, sturdy enough to weather her wear and tear, this high shelf of valued hard-backs is for special times…books chosen to be read on mom or dad’s lap…and she already knows they’re special and brings them to me to put back if they ever get left out. i inscribe as many as i can…”to my children,” i write…and i share why i love the book and where and when we got it…some of them written in far before brett & i even met.

so there. a dissertation on children’s literature. from the simplicity of dr. suess to the complexity of wind and the willows…it’s all beautiful.


Leave a Comment
  1. Ahhhh, books (emphasizing the hissing sound of the closing s, like a snake snarled in tall reed grass). What an amazing thing to cause tears, conjur fears, call laughter and kindle warmth with the assemblage of words on the backdrop of images. Oh that children will always make books their friends and let books lead them to moist and mystical tropical forests or musty, dusty, cobwebby attics where in the shadows they discover the mysteries of peg-legged pirates and unravel love stories of settlers on the prarie. You are good to take her early to the library–it’s her time tunnel and her airport concourse to take her to other times and distant places. I’m glad you have learned this amazing secret of parenting! I love you…a hole is to dig.

  2. Kelle, this is phenomenal! Your writing has always been so good, BUT this one….I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s special. Your words had me captivated from beginning to end! WOW! Your writing needs to be published. You need to publish the books you have written! Let’s see on top of being a mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, professional photographer, I think you need to add more to your repertoire (I had to spell check that word), you need to become a published author, oh yeah, one more thing… I think you should one day teach at the collegiate level…yes, a course in Children’s Literature (but please stay away from the argyle vests…LOL). I am serious!

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  4. OH DUH, I forgot to mention TEACHER! How did I forget that!

    Lainey’s library is OUTSTANDING! LOVE IT!

  5. Shel Silverstein was my favorite. Still is, on some occasions. My Mom was a librarian, and taught me all about the Wind and the Willows, and the beautiful stories you just wrote about. Your words just took me back to such a happy place. The love of reading has never gone away for me… AND I’m back in school soon for teaching. JUST KNEW we were soul sisters!!! :)

  6. Promise me you will read her something/anything/everything by Roald Dahl…

  7. i think that love of books truly spills over to your children. i worried for so long. i owned a considerable amount of children’s books long before the children ever came into being. and they did the same flipping of pages and jumping through the words. now. i can’t pull them away from their books … and stella is reading. READING. reading real words without any direction from me. and i love that more than anything. watching her read the stories. and boxcar children. i can’t wait to read her the boxcar children. except now it has like 89 sequels to the original. i think we’ll just stick to the original, thankyouverymuch.
    love this post.

  8. For anyone who loves books (as I do..oh me too me too), you put into beautiful words all of the feelings we have for them.

    We are all smiling and nodding.

    Such a warm glow!

  9. I went into the funkiest little bookstore yesterday and spontaneously purchased two books for Avi; one about Babar and feelings and another all about recycling, but the latter is in Spanish and very elaborately designed with special popout parts and vintage-y illustrations.

    So many of my chilhood summer afternoons were spent hidden away with a good book, sometimes coupled with a trip for a dipped cone. What a timeless gift to give our children . . .

  10. Oh, Boxcar Children… I may simply just read one of the books just to escape into adventure again.

    Kelle, keep writin’/bloggin’/snappin’/whatever-“in”, and I’ll keep reading.

    Stranger, you are captivating.

  11. Brit Girl says:

    This post made me wish I could meet you for coffee and a waffle or two to carry on talking about children’s books! Many, many happy memories of afternoons spent at the old library in my hometown. I always had my nose in a book as a kid – and later ended up working in children’s publishing for a time! And now… C loves, loves, loves books. It makes me so happy. Her current fave is ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’. Loved this post. Have a great Sunday.

  12. great post, kelle! glad you are up and I’m lovin your baby bump. my childhhood fav was My Little Golden Book About God and I love all the illustrations in Katherine Holabird’s Angelina books. i was reading to my niece and nephew in Alaska last week and my bro was like, “you can just fast forward through the long parts” of “Oh the Places You’ll Go” and I shot him a look that he won’t soon forget!

  13. I am addicted to books, how can anyone go to the bookstore and not leave with a bag full. Alan is definitely going to need bookshelves on all four walls of his bedroom if I keep up the way I’m going. So glad you are feeling back to “normal.” By the way, did you notice the baby’s name in Rainbabies….RAYNA! :}

  14. sitting here in the old rustic lodge in canada, sipping coffee and readin’ your ole’ blog (people are walkin’ by our table looking at me and i’m sure thinking (DUDE, YOUR IN A LODGE IN THE WOODS-STOP THE USE OF YOUR TECHONLOGY and RELAX A LITTLE…lol, what a treat!!!!

    i was so excited to see the illustrtations of books that i so cherished when i was young, but didn’t konw the name of… the elves and the shoemaker and MY FAVE, the book i carried around and wished my mom would dress like and buy me a pram and a beautiful baby doll…Baby Dear!!! (what is the name of that book?) kindergarten one??

    love you, miss you. and your words inspire me so.


  15. so loving everyone’s love of books coming out…see. we all have our favorites. love hearing them. and brit girl…’twas you brits that gave us brambly hedge, so thank you. and did you notice our little madeline doll? i do believe it’s the ‘madeline goes to london’ one. and speaking of notice, just noticed eloise wilkin’s little kindergartener’s name is carol…what a big name for a little girl. ha.
    how i love blog posts within comments.

  16. Don’t even get me started on how much I love kid’s books!!! What a great blog! I love Jemima Puddle-Duck and all of her colleagues! Next time you have a storm, you should read Lainey David Wiesner’s “Hurricane” – one of my faves! Also, the “Little House” books are classic. Oh, and it will be so much fun to read the Judy Blume “Fudge” series to Lainey when she is a big sister and will “get” the older sibling humor (or the Ramona books too). I wish I could have story time with my students, hahaha :)

  17. Brit Girl says:

    Just had to read this post again before heading to bed! I think I said ‘Ahhh’ out loud when I saw the Brambly Hedge pages on your post earlier! Those books are just pure loveliness, aren’t they? And how could I have missed the Madeline doll in her fine uniform?! I hope you and your family will visit London one day (not sure if you’ve been here before??) to take some pics of real beefeaters, and soak up the sights of this wonderful city.
    p.s On a random note, a previous post of yours when you spoke of Lainey being thrilled to be recalled to the baking station inspired me to bake some muffins last week! I’m not a domestic goddess like your good self so I was thrilled when they turned out OK and even more thrilled when C couldn’t get enough of them! Have a good week!
    p.p.s I’m liking the new header!

  18. this kind of post deserves to be read on this american life on NPR. i can so hear it in my head.

    just this weekend i bought a few gems at a garage sale – a boxed collection of Beatrix Potter and a collection of winnie the pooh. $4 bucks for 12 hardback books! they are going on a special shelf in Jonah’s room.

    right now jonah loves his truck book and one fish-two fish-red fish-blue fish. he’ll dig through his book basket until he finds the truck book, which when we bought it had movable parts that have since been torn off. OF-TF-RF-BF which we’ve read so many times that the first 10 pages or so he knows when i stop at word what its supposed to be. although on the page with old fish/new fish he always says its “nonah and mama” not new fish which is fine with me. makes me wonder how that will change when lucas gets here. i should write in the books when it becomes a favorite book. i hope i don’t forget to do that when i get home.

    ok love and hugs! xoxo!

  19. This reminds me of library time when I still lived in NY and was in elementary school. Mrs. Lee would sit us all at a bay window and the top row was the best in winter because it had vents from the heat that warmed up the seats just so. Mrs. Lee would read the books while sitting in an old rocking chair and we would all get lost in the world of make believe . . . I haven’t thought of that in years . . . I can still smell that library and the pages of the books we would take home . . . let’s see if Yankee Candle can’t create that all familiar scent . . . thank you for reminding me of a sweet memory . . . well, now I’m seriously contemplating a trip to the library this afternoon . . . oh and when will your children’s book be published? :-)

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  21. What a wonderful post Kelle. I have to say that while I am a reader I am usually impatient with lengthy blog posts. I often start and only give a para or two to capture me before I’m all nevermind. But this lengthy number had me all wanting more and more the whole time. Thanks. And thanks for reminding me that I need to read books and not just books to my chicken. I so share your eagerness to build up a library for her. And I am so honored to have our very own All the Places to Love with your intro in there. Maybe I’ll even read this again…it is dripping with your passion for the subject.

    Also, Beatrix Hampton has a lovely ring to it…

  22. Love this post, third grade teacher that I am, I certainly share the love. I love to introduce the kids to Pippi and Charlie Bucket and the Sneetches with the Stars on Thars. Oh, and Miss Rumphius. Know her? So much fun. Thanks for getting me excited about going back to work. Beautiful, beautiful writing.

  23. Love this post! Love Books! Love it Love it Love it!

    Took the kids to Beatrix Potter’s house this summer. They loved being there and seeing the house and scenery that inspired her. Even saw the rat hole in the wall that she used for The Tale of Samuel Whiskers…. I love books!!!!! :)

  24. I know this is an older post…and I know you must be SO busy right now with your two beautiful daughters, but I just HAD to tell you how much I LOVED this post! Actually, I LOVE your entire blog! I just found it a few days ago, and when I have time, I enjoy sitting down and reading your wonderful words and admiring your incredible photographs. I am also a SAHM, to three boys ages 14, 11, 4 (and a new baby on the way!) and while my two oldest boys LOVED being read to…my youngest would rather try and keep up with them than sit in my lap for a good book. I keep trying though, even if I have to read aloud while he is doing something else. I loved how you wrote that you hope to be reading to your daughter well into the middle school years…I made it to 7th grade with my oldest, and my middle son (now in 6th grade) still likes to take turns reading with me. Anyway…sorry this got so long, but I just wanted to let you know how much I have THOROUGHLY enjoyed your blog. Thank you! Oh, and my mother and i both LOVE Eloise Wilkin…I still have my copy of Baby Dear (although I can’t believe my mother let me WRITE in it!!).

  25. So here I am reading your old posts because that is what I’ve been doing since I came across your blog. Spending my girls’ precious nap times on my newest guilty pleasure, which is your blog. It’s like I’m reading a book I guess. I don’t know if you’ll even be notified of a comment on a post this old but thought I’d leave one anyway. I know so many women relate to you through your blog- but when I just read you used to be a teacher I was wowed again. I used to teach 3rd grade before I had my girls. And it was due much to my love of Children’s Lit as well. I LOVE kid’s books with a passion. When one of the grandparents brings another book over and says “sorry” I know they have a ton, I say, “I’m a teacher, there is no such thing as too many books!” Reading time at night with my 2 yr old is the best time of my day and I hope it continues for many many years as well.
    I’ve told you you’re my sista from anotha motha, lol, in one of my old comments. I think we were broken from the same mold (and seriously, don’t let all my gushing creep you out,lol! I’m a 29 year old mama of 2 girls and I stay home with them- I just really truly relate to you, we’re very much the same I can tell… and I’m pretty positive we’d be super good buddies if we knew one another). Anyways, enough with my ramblings…just happy to know you were a teacher too. What grade did you teach?

  26. This is a great post! I love finding the long ones with lots of writing in your archives. :)

    Did you read this article about the dad and daughter who read together every night until she left for college? One of my favorite articles ever written.


  27. eloise wilkins one of my all time favourite too and just started reading chapter books (The Magic Faraway Tree) with my 5 yo who has recently become a reader herself and I believe due to being read out loud to every day and surrounded by books at home/trips to library etc.

    Did try W in the W a while back but it was too wordy/too early I think…one day, maybe soon

    I’m with another commenter – read the Roald Dahl books too

    Oh and Charlie and Lola I think your girls would LOVE them. Lauren Child (author/illustrator) has also done a great version of Princess and the Pea and also Pippi Longstocking

    Must haves (for the special hardcover read with mummy and daddy bookshelves)

  28. I’m sorry…I don’t know if you can read a comment left so long after a post has been posted, but I just had to say…


    Ditto to everything you just said. The books, the illustrators, the wishes and dreams, the LOVE of a beautiful hardback…omg, just, ditto.

    This is how I feel about books and words, and little ones enjoying them.

    Again, I don’t know if you’ll ever read this since it’s like a year-old-post, but I just had to say something. I’ve been making my way through your whole blog this week in whatever little spare time I can get, and I’m loving every second.

    so much love to you and your family from me and mine <3

  29. Have you ever read, Love You Forever? If you haven’t, you really should! It’s a great read and a great children’s book. I have so many memories of my mom choking back tears as she read it to me at night. :)

  30. don and audrey wood (napping house, king bidgood’s in the bathtub, piggies, quick as a cricket – they have a special way with words)

    david shannon (duck on a bike, fergus, a bad case of the stripes, and one that lainey will adore – alice the fairy!)

    robert munsch – for those so silly stories that just make kids laugh.

    and please don’t forget the beloved harry potter – when lainey is older. that is a tall drink of YUMMY writing!

    just a few of this kindergarten teacher’s favs! :)

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  32. I realize I’m pretty late commenting on this post. I came across your blog a few days ago because of a link in the blog, The Girl Who Eats Everything and I absolutely love it! I’m reading from the beginning. I, too, love children’s books. I’m more than halfway through my middle childhood language arts and social studies education degree.
    Anyways, this post made me so so happy because it reminded me of my daddy reading Brambly Hedge books to me and my beloved We Like Kindergarten book.
    Just couldn’t pass up commenting! :]

  33. I’m not sure that you still read these comments, but I was perusing your blog, and stumbled upon this post. I adore books. Namely children’s lit. I have a minor in Library Science. People look at me as if I’m goofy when I give my spiel about my love for Library books, the dictinct musty smell they carry, or the way they sound when the librarian closes them after scanning and stamping them with their due date. My mom is the same way (actually you remind me a lot of her), she started us off early (as in earlier than I can remember)reading to us, taking us to the Library, instilling her love for books in us. Honestly though, what really got me was that little caption, “someday i will read these to her in a dark lamp-lit room while she’s snuggled under quilts falling asleep to the words of anne of green gables or betsy-tacey and tib.” My sister and I both ADORED Anne, and Betsy-Tacey. I kind of thought we were the only ones one the Earth who knew about Betsy-Tacey! We’ve scoured the earth to find copies of all the books, and have been quite successful. I promise you, It will last past middle school. It won’t ever stop. It hasn’t for us,and We’re all over the age of 25 (some of us WAY over 25;) ). Also, I figure since I have already commented I might as well throw in the fact that my name is also Lainey. My real name is ALaina, but my nickname is Lainey. It’s extremely rare to come across another, but every time I do I get really stupidly excited.

  34. Im a longtime reader, I love childrens lit and just discovered this post and will chech out some of the titles you recommended. Thank you!

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