Books for 'children of all ages'

A collection of children's books has adult appeal.

My friend and I are both retired elementary school teachers, so my recent purchase surprised her.

"You mean you bought a children's book for yourself?" she asked. "I have started getting rid of mine by giving them to my grandchildren."

But I am not ready to part with mine quite yet. My library of children's books represents an integral part of me, transporting me back to the days of my own childhood as well as those of my sons and grandchildren. I indulge myself by reliving experiences as I read these books through the years. And I long to add more memories.

There was a more limited selection of children's books when I was growing up, and their illustrations look relatively drab compared with children's books today.

But it is not always wise to judge an old children's book by its cover. I still have several of these treasured books of cherished stories, which taught me important lifelong lessons. And sometimes I relearn the lessons as I reread the books.

When my sons were toddlers, they enjoyed pop-up books – turning cardboard wheels or uncovering hidden objects. The boys' giggling response was infectious, so I became hooked on this type of book.

But it was not until my sons were married that I began collecting pop-up books. My favorites are by Robert Sabuda.

I feel a childlike thrill peeking inside his insect books: seeing larger-than-life beetles and then pulling a tab to make their wings move, for instance, or pulling a tab to watch a butterfly emerge from a pupa.

There is multigenerational appeal in this pop-up library. I enjoy guessing which character will appear after I unfold each letter's booklet in Sabuda's "ABC Disney." My childhood favorites – Bambi, Cinderella, and Dumbo – are inside, along with Mulan and Zazu, contemporary characters more familiar to my grandchildren.

Also on my bookshelves are many books by author/illustrator Quentin Blake. What a thrill it was several years ago to stand next to him at the light board in his London studio, showing him how I used his children's books to teach grammar in my classroom.

Afterward, he said quietly, "It is an honor to meet you."

I assured him that the real honor was mine.

The children's book purchase that my friend questioned was a volume by another well-known author and had actually been delayed for more than three decades.

Best known for his tales about Corduroy the bear, Don Freeman also wrote about rodents – a groundhog, a squirrel, and several cultured mice.

His aunt, whom I knew, introduced me to her nephew years ago. After learning that I played the cello, he mentioned that the book he was then writing was about a cello-playing praying mantis. Unfortunately, in 1978 he passed on before the book was published. Until recently, I assumed it never would be available.

Then I happened to find out that "Manuelo the Playing Mantis" had been published posthumously in 2004.

In it, Manuelo makes his instrument from half a walnut shell, and his bow is a stick with a curlicue. A spider spins the strings he plays with a feather bow.

At the end of Freeman's touching story, other insects – crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids – along with frogs, join Manuelo in musicmaking.

I can imagine this symphony by nature's players, because I once heard similar performances on a cruise through the Amazon jungle.

Wonder and delight are among the childlike qualities that inspire children's authors and illustrators. I am not in the specific target audience for readers of any of their books, but that won't stop me from buying more in the future.

After all, I am a loyal member of a larger, well-known group – children of all ages.

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