Today, I spent an hour or two uselessly looking for picture books and copies of Junie B. Jones or Captain Underpants, my 2nd grade favorites.
My house, in case I haven't yet mentioned, is a labyrinth of dust and dilapidated junk. Going looking for something is never a good idea.
I started with The Parent Closet.
The light broke a year or two ago, and we haven't bothered to get it repaired. Groping around in the darkness, I managed to hit my knee, elbow, and toe quite painfully against a stuffed animal, a wooden chest, and a stack of books. But I couldn't find the flaslight necessary to navigate more than a step away from the door. I decided to give up, since it was pitch dark, and we didn't yet have a hard helmet. Y'know, looking for picture books isn't exactly the way I want to head out.
So I turned to my room.
At some point last year, in a uncharacteristic fit of purpose, I organized my personal library alphabetically. By this time, basically all the picture books and early elementary favorites had disappeared, never to come back, into either the yawning abyss of my parent's closet or into the used book piles at my local library.
So I pawed over my bedroom, looking in dusty nooks and crannies. I retrieved two books: my copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales and a rather beaten up picture book called Tomie de Paola's Favorite Nursery Tales. I looked some more, screamed when I encountered a spider, retreated into the living room, and decided that I didn't want to risk my life anymore.
There it occurs to me that I did alright. These books I've found are tales that I listened to before I knew what words where, and perhaps this is chronologically first in my reading life.
But oh, Tomie de Paola has such lovely drawings. The book starts:
How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?
Among the tales, there's "Johnny Cake," "The Little Red Hen," and one of my favorites, "The Princess and the Pea," all lushly illustrated and written.
I feel happy reading these stories, only a few pages in length. And picture books are actually pretty well-written.
I smile when I get to this part in The Princess and the Pea:
"Oh terribly badly!" said the Princess. "I have scarcely shut my eyes the whole night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body. It is really terrible."& also the mantra of laziness in Little Red Hen. "Not I," "Not I," "Not I."
The thing is, you can't go back and read a childhood book without remembering the years and times you've heard these stories, and loved them, and how ingrained they are in you, to have resided in your brain for so long. It's lovely, returning to them.
When I turn to Grimm's Fairy Tales (cover at left) I find a little surprise. It's my very first book review written on the last page. A one-liner.
"Hi this is Meg it is June 8 2002 and I am eight. This is book is sorta boring sorta interesting. I have less than a week until school ends. Fridays and Saturdays our my favorite days. I like sports a lot and I am really good at them. P.S. The reason I am writing this is because I want to remember what I was like in this grade." Then I have this bit where it says J3 M2 F1 A2 D1 N1 O1 S1. and then "Meg when you see this and wonder what this means I did this when I was 8."
Pfft. Counting how many months start with each letter? I must have been bored. (Here, I suddenly remember my habit of hiding messages just like this for me to find when I was older. I have a few tucked and hidden away in my room, I recall, but I don't remember where.) But what, since when is Grimm's Fairy Tales boring? ARE YOU KIDDING ME, KIDDO? I MEAN, FREAKING CINDERELLA'S SISTERS CUT BITS OF THEIR FEET OFF, WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT IN TERMS OF CLIMAX, HUH?
Thank goodness I came to my senses. I love Grimm's Fairy Tales so much. This book is beautifully illustrated as well. It's action packed, full of talking animals and magic and princesses and princes set off to find their fortunes, and quite a lot of true love. Also, castles.*
It's full of magical sentences. Literally. And also those typical fairy tale sentences. I flip through, reading bits and pieces.
"He took up plow, harrow, horses and all, and carried them home like a bundle of straw."
"Then the wedding of the Prince and Briar Rose was celebrated with all splendor, and they lived happily till they died."
"And he marveled at her beauty, her royal garments, and the start on her forehead."
"Queen thou art of beauty rare
But Snow-White living in the glen
With seven little men
Is a thousand ties more fair."
Oh, these tales. So wondrous. Ones we all know, in some form.
I don't have time to read all 362 pages of Grimm's Fairy Tales today. I have the rather pressing matter of finals to study for. But I'll be keeping it nearby, to read during lulls in the day.
It's hard to describe the feeling I'm getting, reacquainting myself with these tales that bring up memories every time I flip a page. It's a sort of fullness, I'm feeling. This sense that, somewhere, all these stories I've read and heard are still there, ready to be summoned. And the feeling that it's just amazing to know that in each of us, there are stories, waiting to be told and heard and remembered. That we carry them with us every day, and that we're millions of stories jostling each other, full of so many words and plots that aren't ours.
This is kinda my mini-epiphany of the day.
* I have a particular interest in castles, seeing as I intend to live in one one day.**
** What? It's a totally reasonable goal. Also, I have a lot of experience with dilapidation in my current house, so I'll do better than most with mold and creaky towers.***
*** DON'T LAUGH AT MY DREAMSSSSS.