Literacy is one of the best gifts you can give

Walking past the library on a recent Friday evening, we passed a young woman pushing a stroller with a very young occupant. The baby was contentedly gnawing on one corner of a cloth version of Dorothy Kunhardt’s children’s classic, Pat the Bunny. (sometimes known as Sleepy Bunny.

Instant nostalgia. “That was one of my favourite books when I was a kid,” I told the proud mom. “I hope it gives your baby a real taste for reading.”

As we walked on from that brief encounter, my wife impudently suggested I must have been thinking of my kids, since I was far too old to have read Pat the Bunny in my own childhood. I’m happy to report that herself was dead wrong this time, although she almost never makes a mistake. Kunhardt’s interactive “touch and feel” book was published in 1940, three full years before I graced the world with my presence. Yes, I did read it to (and with) my offspring in the 1960s and ’70s, but I distinctly remember it was one of the tools my own mom deployed while she was passing on the priceless gift of literacy. 

It may be Noddy, or Tintin, or Rupert Bear. It may be Potter or Sendak, Homer’s Odyssey, Burton’s translation of the 1001 Arabian NightsBullfinch’s Mythology, or any number of others. Whatever works, works.

I was never that keen on Dr. Seuss when my kids were young. (I snobbishly rejected Theodore Geisel’s anarchic approach to poetic scansion.) I have since come to relish his genius at unlocking imagination through word play and rhyme. My own tastes ran more toward two brilliant Canadian children’s authors, Robert Munsch and Dennis Lee, and their respective illustrators.

But let’s not forget the 1947 kid-lit gatecrasher, Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, with Clement Hurd’s simple, unforgettable artwork. (What is it with bunnies, by the way?) And don’t ignore the Dean Whalley/Don Page delight called Lamont the Lonely Monster, which includes a character named Uriah the Heap.

Hundreds of enticing new children’s books come out every year.
Whatever your language or culture, your gift to the future is to provide wonder for kids to chew on in their strollers.

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