Five Family Favorites with Gayle Brandeis
We’re over the moon to have Gayle Brandeis visit TCBR today. Gayle is a powerhouse mama, writer, activist, teacher, and all-around lovely person. She is the author of many books including Fruitflesh, The Book of Dead Birds, Self Storage, Delta Girls, and most recently Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Literature and The Book of Live Wires. Young readers should check out her fantastic novel My Life with the Lincolns. While Gayle serves a two-year term as Inlandia Literary Laureate, she’s finishing up a new YA novel and working on a memoir. We’re grateful to her for sharing her family’s favorite books with us.
When I found out I was pregnant at 41, one of the things I was most excited about was having a child to read to again. My older kids were 19 and close to 16 when Asher was born three years ago; reading to them was a pleasure I had extended as long as I could—about halfway into the Harry Potter series—but eventually they retreated to their own reading corners. I couldn’t wait to snuggle back up to the compound deliciousness of baby and book.
Anais Nin said that writing is a way to taste life twice; reading to Asher helps me taste life twice, too—sometimes three times, when we read books that I shared with my older kids and also loved as a child. As I curl up with Asher and Where the Wild Things Are, I feel echoes of nestling beneath my Holly Hobby comforter while my father read the book to me, of myself reading it to my older kids (I can still hear my now-22-year old son saying the last line—“And it was still hot!”—with great gusto as a two year old.) And I love thinking about how we’re part of a greater web of parents and grandparents reading to our little ones at night, filling them with stories that seep into their dreams.
Here are five of our family favorites:
The Little Engine that Could
By Watty Piper
An old chestnut that still has a lot of steam. Asher is obsessed with trains, so our bookshelves are full of railroad-related stories, but The Little Engine that Could has life beyond bedtime (and was beloved by my older kids, as well). When we are out playing “chugga chugga” and we get to a hill, Asher will always take a deep breath and chant “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”, sometimes just as a whisper to himself, before he starts to climb. And I love that when I read the book to him, I taste the train’s oranges and milk in my head the exact same way I did when I was a little girl.
Ages 2-6 | Publisher: Philomel | September 27, 2005
Harold and the Purple Crayon
Purple has always been my favorite color, and this book may be the reason why. All my kids have adored this little book, too. I love how Harold literally creates his own world (although there’s always been part of me that has been a bit uneasy about this, too—it seems like such a lonely world for this little bald kid in a onesie who has to draw his own house in order to have a place to sleep. But hey, he also gets to craft a picnic for himself made up entirely of the nine kinds of pie he likes best—everyone’s favorite page in the Brandeis household.
Ages 3 and up | Publisher: HarperCollins | May 15, 1998
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
By Eric Carle
I’m noticing a trend here. Every book on this list features some sort of food (or even if it’s not exactly featured, it’s what my family tends to hone in on; I’ve definitely passed on my love of food lit to my kids.) This book is all about the goodies—especially on the Saturday pages, when our friend the caterpillar eats through a whole smorgasbord, from Swiss cheese to a slice of cherry pie Harold would drool over. This book was also instrumental in helping my kids learn to count; it’s fun to go from one apple to five oranges (and to put little fingers inside the holes that bore through each page.)
Ages 2-6 | Publisher: Philomel | October 15, 1981
By Kevin Henkes
This is a brand new favorite for Asher, as of two nights ago, but we’ve already read it about five times, and he’s asked me to retell the story of the mouse with the long name in my own words at least another three. Chrysanthemum has introduced Asher to macaroni-and-cheese with ketchup (two favorite foods he had never dreamed of combining before) and has reinforced what all good books—and parents—should: the importance of being oneself. Henkes’ books were always a hit with my older kids, as well; his mix of whimsy and humor and heart is so deeply appealing.
Ages 3-6 | Publisher: Greenwillow Books | October 2, 2007
Harriet the Spy
I can’t wait until Asher is old enough for this story so I can read it out loud all over again. Harriet had a huge impact upon me as a budding writer; she reminded me to pay attention to the world around me and to always have a notebook handy (plus she spawned a love of tomato sandwiches, and cake and milk as an after school treat. Food—see?) I hope Asher will enjoy it as much as my older kids (excellent writers, themselves, who were no doubt inspired by Harriet, too.)
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Yearling | May 8, 2001
There are so many books I look forward to sharing with Asher, so many nights of yummy words and closeness, stories that will stay on our tongues and in our hearts long after we’ve turned the last page.
Nicki Richesin is the author and editor of four anthologies; Crush, What I Would Tell Her, Because I Love Her, and The May Queen. She is the San Francisco correspondent for Du Jour and a frequent contributor to Sunset, The Horn Book, 7×7, The Huffington Post, and Daily Candy. Find her online at https://nickirichesin.com/.