How children learn that there are people called authors

Image stolen from

Reading to my daughter tonight, as usual, she chose the books.  First, she chose one called Reading Makes You Feel Good by Todd Parr.  “I really like books by Todd Parr,” she said.  She’d already been reading it to one of her babies when I came in.  [My daughter has a lot of babies.  Often, when I tell her the name of an author or illustrator, she says, “I have a baby named” (fill in the blank).]

In the rush of the day, it would be easy to just get to the meat and read the book, rather than taking a few seconds to name the author and illustrator.  Some books we have (and some she picks from the library) are so ugly, cheesy, and poorly written that I don’t feel like elevating the schmucks who created them by giving them name.  Meow.  (Though those schmucks are probably making a living at what they do, so I should refrain from sneering, at least from that whole “making a living by writing books” angle.)  But even with these stinky books, each time, when I read the title, then “written by…” and “illustrated by…” the child comes to know that there are people behind each book.

My daughter lives with two parents who are writers.  As she grows up, she’ll know a lot–maybe too much–about what it means to be a writer.  So many writers bemoan the current state of publishing…it’s a sad time for books, some say.  But we could do a lot to improve the morale of writers if we do this simple act: when reading a book to a child, include the name of the writer and illustrator.  Every time.  Every book.

If we do, maybe that lucky child who doesn’t know any writers personally will come to know that someone sat and thought about the book, someone chose words and painted images to tell the story that lulls her to sleep.

Wanda Gág

I read Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gág, three times today. Several months ago, it was my toddler’s favorite book, but we haven’t read it recently. My daughter brought me the book for today’s third reading, and said “We haven’t read this book in a long time!” (This phrase, like many others she says, are echoes of things my husband and I say to her, but I still find it charming.)

The book, recommended to me by Jim Krusoe, is wonderful. A lonely old man goes out in search of a cat for his lonely old wife, finds a hill full of them, and can’t decide which is best, so brings them all home. The cats are thirsty and hungry, and subsequently devour a pond and hills full of grass on their way. Once back at the homestead, the cats start a huge rumble because each thinks it’s prettiest, and the old man and woman take cover. Once things are quiet again, only one scraggly waif remains–saved because no one bothered about it. The couple assumes all the other cats ate each other. (My husband assumes the little waif ate them all.) The old man and woman adopt the waif, bathe and feed it, and by the end of the book, it’s healthy and charming, and the couple is no longer lonely.

The illustrations are amazing.

According to the Wikipedia entry, Wanda Gág sounds like she would have been interesting to know.

“She eventually received a scholarship to study art in St. Paul. She supported her younger siblings as best she could by sending money home, but underwent great conflict over the choice between pursuing her creativity (what she called her “Myself”) or becoming a commercial artist.”

Her “Myself.” Too often, I ignore my “Myself.”

Soon, I need to find my Myself a pond to drink dry, and hills of grass to devour.

Why do we wait for the end?

I was thinking about something that is often on my mind: sentences. When building a sentence, depending on style, and purpose, often a writer will place the idea or word that needs the most emphasis at the end. I’m sure there are reasons for this placement; people remember what you put last. Or, maybe no one pays attention until the sentence is (almost) over.

Recently, my daughter, who will soon be 21 months old, has been filling in the last word of many books my husband and I read to her. So she’s tracking that last word; the end is what resonates. Maybe what’s at work here is something primal. Maybe, even as babies, we are waiting for the period. For the pause. For the breath.

I don’t know, but I suppose there are worse things about which to obsess.