I decided to read classic books at preschool story time last week, books from a previous generation which the children may not have heard before. I started with The Backward Day by Ruth Kraus originally published in 1950. On Backward Day, a little boy gets dressed by putting on his coat first, he walks backwards down the stairs, sits in his father's place at the breakfast table, until he goes back to bed and starts the day again. Our copy was original and I wondered how it would go over with the children since it looked so old fashioned with Dad dressed in a suit and tie and Mom in a frock. However, the children loved it! They thought it very funny and laughed all of the way through the story.
Then I read Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, first published in 1963. Most of the children already knew this story. They were happy to hear it again and Harry, the little white dog with black spots, remains so engaging.
Maurice Sendak's wonderful alphabet book, Alligators All Around did not go over well with the parents! There was clicking of tongues and plenty of scowls when I read lines (which I think delightful) like "Q Quite Quarrelsome", "R Rather Rude", "T Throwing Tantrums"! Very unexpected! I had to wonder if these parents remembered what it really feels like to be a child.
Gilberto and the Wind by Marie Hall Ets was next, about a boy who plays with the wind. I followed it with two poems, Wind by Robert Louis Stevenson and Who Has Seen the Wind? by Christina Rossetti. The children were attentive, but mute when I tried to open a discussion about the wind, talking about kites and pinwheels.
The biggest surprise by far - their reaction to Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.. It's been a long time since I had read this story to a group of children and I was looking forward to it. I was sure all of them would have heard the book before yet that was not the case. Several children did not know this book, which only made me more eager to read it to them - until the comments began.
"Whaddaya mean on her stomach was a scar?" one boy asked.
"Well, she got a scar when they took her appendix out," I said.
"They cut her open?!!!!" Looks of horror on the children's faces!
"What's an appendix anyway?" one girl asked. "We don't have them do we?"
Oh, my! Madeline had suddenly taken rather a gothic turn! Even the romance of the old house in Paris covered in vines seemed lost on the children. I limped through the rest of the book, not even bothering to read Miss Clavel with a slightly French accent. Near the end of the story a vocal little boy in the front row piped up with a question on many of the young minds - "Why in the world did the other little girls want their appendix out too?"
"Well," I said, "because of the toys and candy and the dollhouse from Papa."
Withering glances all around. "So?" the children asked, as if, obviously, nothing so mercenary as a toy would be worth the horror of the stomach scar.
After that, all I wanted to do was turn out the lights and close the door and say, "That's all there is, there isn't any more."!