This may just be my favorite picture book ever. I discovered it during grad school when I worked at a children's bookstore, and it was love at first rThis may just be my favorite picture book ever. I discovered it during grad school when I worked at a children's bookstore, and it was love at first read. I don't think I have ever once read it without tearing up. When I read it to the littles yesterday, Scott had to step in near the end when I was too choked up to speak. It's a beautiful book, and true in the way that sometimes only fiction is.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a little boy who lives next to an old-age home. He is friends with all the residents and loves to visit them. When he hears his parents say how sad it is that his favorite resident, 93-year-old Miss Nancy, is losing her memory, Wilfrid Gordon quizzes all the other old folks about what a memory is exactly. "It's something warm," one tells him. "Something from long ago." "Something that makes you cry." "Something that makes you laugh." And so on.
And so Wilfrid goes off and collects a box of treasures for Miss Nancy—a warm hen egg, a funny puppet, an old medal…
It's what happens when Miss Nancy handles the gifts that always makes me cry. Perfectly lovely, and Julie Vivas's tender colored pencil drawings are as lovely and moving as the story.
After I treated myself to 84, Charing Cross Road, it was only a matter of time before I reread Helene Hanff’s Letter from New York. This was the bookAfter I treated myself to 84, Charing Cross Road, it was only a matter of time before I reread Helene Hanff’s Letter from New York. This was the book in which I first encountered Miss Hanff—I don’t remember whether I bought it myself or was given it by someone, but I know I read it the year I moved to New York City, and it profoundly influenced my first experiences there. Helene Hanff taught me how to see the quirky and charming characteristics of a neighborhood; she enticed me out of my midtown office building during many a summer lunch hour and sent me scurrying all over Manhattan in search of streets and buildings she’d mentioned.
Letter from New York is a collection of radio transcripts: a monthly series of five-minute talks Miss Hanff for the BBC Women’s Hour, to share a slice of New York life with London listeners. She describes her building, her neighborhood, her favorite haunts in the city; she tells colorful and wry tales about the customs and opinions of her fellow New Yorkers. Delicious stuff.
Of all the talks, the story I remembered the most clearly was the one about the Shakespeare Garden. If you recall, I kept waiting for that part of Charing Cross Road and only realized halfway through that I’d got the wrong book.
It was in May 1979 that Miss Hanff told her BBC listeners about the corner of Central Park known as the Shakespeare Garden.
It was perched on a small hilltop and reached by high stone steps. It had flower beds blooming in spring, summer, and autumn, and a famous mulberry tree; it had a little stone moat for irrigation, with a small footbridge across it…The first park gardener I met there told me it was begun in the 1900s and was modeled on Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford. A later gardener said that the garden contained every flower mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. He used to identify them, for ignoramuses like me. And he always pointed out the big mulberry tree grown from a cutting of a tree in Shakespeare’s own garden."
Unfortunately, as Miss Hanff explains, New York City had budget troubles and let the park gardeners go. The Shakespeare garden fell into ruin, such a depressing sight that Helene stopped walking past it; she couldn’t bear to see.
But a young couple who lived near the park couldn’t avoid it. They walked past the abandoned hilltop on their way to work on pleasant mornings. And so, on Sunday in May a couple of years ago, Peggy-the-schoolteacher and John-the-lawyer climbed the stone steps—with buckets of earth and buckets of water and garden tools—and began to dig. They worked all day; and the next Saturday they went back to the hilltop and worked all weekend.
A few neighbors and passersby saw them working and joined them. From then on, the volunteers worked weekends all spring and summer, and all the net spring and summer. And this year the garden is beginning to bloom again.
It’s not the Shakespeare Garden it once was. Peggy told me we can’t get English wildflower seeds over here. So the garden has no cowslips or harebells, and there’s no border of English roses anyore. But we still call it the Shakespeare Garden. And in a city of cliff dweller, it’s a small miracle to have Central Park’s only garden growing again, even if it’s not the English garden I loved.
But the story doesn’t end there. The following June, Miss Hanff had this to say to her BBC audience:
A year ago, I told you about the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park which had gone to seed when the city could no longer afford gardeners, and which a handful of New Yorkers had begun to recreate here. I said that the new garden could never be a real Shakespeare garden, since we couldn’t get English wildflower seeds over here. Well, a few generous Woman’s Hour listeners promptly rushed out and mailed us wildflower seeds, and I am now able to report that the cowslips and harebells are blooming, and so is the dyer’s work. And along the rustic wooden fence at the far rim of the garden—for the first time in ten years—the gold-centered, white English garden roses are blooming again. The Shakespeare Gardeners thank you, New York thanks you, and I can’t tell you wahat it meant to me, to see the long row of yellow buds flower into white roses again, like a like of small Phoenixes rising from the ashes. Thank you!
Our copy of this book is a Weekly Reader edition that belonged to my husband when he was little. Delightful art, bursting with personality and humor.Our copy of this book is a Weekly Reader edition that belonged to my husband when he was little. Delightful art, bursting with personality and humor. The rollicking rhyme works well for this silly tale of animals begging an elephant not to unleash his powerful and destructive sneeze. A frequent read-aloud request from my younger children. (I admit: when the toddler is the sole requester, I usually only read the first couple of lines on each page. The book is a bit text-heavy for a two-year-old, but it entrances the five-year-old.)...more
I think the best way to tell you about I Want My Hat Back is to describe my family’s reaction to it. I was sent a review copy by the publisher (the ofI think the best way to tell you about I Want My Hat Back is to describe my family’s reaction to it. I was sent a review copy by the publisher (the official pub date is Sept. 27), and I began reading it right out of the package, standing in the living room. A bear has lost his hat, and he wants it back. He asks a fox; the fox hasn’t seen it. He asks a frog; no luck there either. He asks a rabbit—a rabbit who happens to be wearing a pointy red hat.
“No. Why are you asking me,” replies the rabbit. “I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen any hats anywhere. I would not steal a hat. Don’t ask me any more questions.”
By this point I’m laughing out loud and I have to go right away and show the book to the rest of my family. This book is begging to be read aloud by a daddy like Scott.
They’re in the kitchen, Scott and my three older girls, ages ten, twelve, and sixteen. I thrust the book before their faces, you’ve got to read this, and we stand there turning the pages together. At the rabbit’s remarks, the girls burst out laughing. The animals’ deadpan expressions and terse, uninflected dialogue make this exchange viciously funny.
We’re huddled around the book, reading on silently. The bear asks many more animals, with no success, and finally flops down in the grass and stares at the sky. My poor hat. I miss it so much.
And then the bear remembers where he’s seen it. I’m not going to say what happens after that, but it made my daughters shriek with laughter and shock, even the teenager. My husband gasped. I howled. Rilla, when we read it to her later, chortled wickedly.
I don’t think everyone will approve of the ending. I’ve had three-year-olds who would be very upset by the turn of events. Most six-year-olds I’ve known would, I think, embrace it with glee.
Today I tweeted, “I really want to write about a certain book but various children keep spiriting it away from my stack.”
And my husband replied: “I have not seen that book. I would not take that book. I don’t know what a book is. Stop asking me questions about a book.”