Discovering Picture Books

Oddly enough, my love for picture books began the summer I was thirteen. Before that time, libraries were largely nonexistent in the rural communities and schools where we lived. Stories came from our reading books at school and orally from Mama who could have competed with any of the professional storytellers I’ve ever heard. Once we got past Dick and Jane, the readers had some pretty nice tales. I remember one I read in third grade about a little girl who made omelets for soldiers. From an exotic place (France) with an exotic name (Yvonne), she enticed me to decide I’d like to go there one day. Of course, the name was only exotic after I learned that it was not pronounced “Y-vonne.” The Army fulfilled my wish for two and a half years with my husband’s assignment just outside Paris, but I digress.

In a bargain with the State of Mississippi, Mama taught with what was termed an “emergency certificate” in a remote rural community – even more rural than the one in which we lived. Her end of the bargain was completing six hours of college classes toward her teaching certificate every summer. Ironically, word got out that the county superintendent of education said her best first grade teacher was at Laws Hill. That would be Mama. Laws Hill didn’t have two.

On this particular summer, Mama took Kiddie Lit, or Children’s Literature, if you want to be proper. My contribution to her returning to class was baby-sitting one ornery and two agreeable sisters, doing piles of ironing including two or three starched white shirts per day for my preacher father, and cooking in a hot kitchen to keep meals for six on the table. My well-earned and quite adequate reward was exposure to Mama’s homework. I enjoyed her text, Anthology of Children’s Literature, edited by Johnson, Scott, and Sickels, but the picture books were the best – Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag; Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky; Petunia by Roger Duvoisin; The Little House and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and that funny Dr. Seuss guy with his And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and Green Eggs and Ham. By the end of the summer, I was gleefully hooked on picture books.

November is picture book month, and I’m celebrating with Mama’s old text, generously returned to my possession by the youngest sister, and an array of picture books – the oldies that are well worn from children and students and some new ones from last week’s Louisiana Book Festival. I invite you to join me, at least virtually, in your local library or bookstore for the celebration. You’re never too old for picture books – at least until you are too old for a turn in the porch swing, a cone of ice cream, or a trip to the zoo.