Well, that’s according to Groucho Marks. This much I know: the books we read while children stay with us our whole lives.
One of my favorites is “Frog and Toad Are Friends,” written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel and published in 1970. The popular children’s book celebrates the power of friendship between two best friends, Frog and Toad, who have many adventures together from swimming to finding lost buttons. One thing is for sure: Frog and Toad are always there for each other through thick and thin.
“Ivan the Great” is another book that kept me company as a kid. The cover is bright yellow and Ivan is a green parrot who teaches a 9-year-old boy the difference between the truth and a lie. I remember sneaking into my mama’s walk-in closet, hiding behind old suitcases and reading all about Ivan with only the gleam of my flashlight to guide me through the pages. The Little Golden Books were a staple in my childhood room with such classics as “Scuffy the Tugboat,” “The Shy Little Kitten,” “Bambi” and “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
It wasn’t until I was 12 that I discovered the excitement and convenience of book clubs through the mail, and I was hooked instantly. My teachers were instrumental in fostering my love of books. Oh, the joy of the “Weekly Reader” catalog when I was in elementary school with all the little boxes to check for the books ordered. I earned more free posters of kittens than any child in America. It was the highlight of my Fridays to sit at our kitchen table, nibbling pancakes with Mama helping me fill out my order form for books. I gasped and cheered for my favorites; she managed the sales tax.
There was “Garfield,” the grumpy cat, of course, and the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Mysteries were my obsession, and I can’t wait to see the movie remake of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” I read “The Secret Garden” so many times the cover was ripped off and the pages were dog-eared or stained by sticky fingers. As I grew into a teenager, I even charmed my daddy into subscribing to the Franklin Mint literary club. Each month a brand new leather bound novel appeared in our mailbox, and I remember running my fingers up and down the gold lettering, smelling the pages as I got lost in the gothic tales of Edgar Allen Poe or the adventures of Ernest Hemingway.
For me, books were an escape from my ordinary life where I could leap across the lily pads with Frog and Toad, sit in the old school house with Laura Ingalls, and smell the roses growing in a secret garden. It was Hemingway himself who said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”
Well, I treasure my collection of books, and I am blessed with lots of loyal friends, just like Frog and Toad who taught me the value of someone to share life’s journeys and the permanence of the written word.
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