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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Better When Ezra

One of the things I like best about fatherhood is reading bedtime stories. It is a truly relaxing experience, and it makes up for one of the lesser aspects of fatherhood--late night crying jags (usually hers). The books themselves make a difference too. Before "the Goof" showed up, I hadn't read a children's book since, well, childhood. As it turns out, some of them are quite extraordinary. When I first saw Goodnight Moon my reaction was a bored yawn. This is a classic? There's nothing to it. Yet that's the beauty of it--a calming simplicity that hides subtle shifts of perspective and that has much more going on than it immediately reveals.

Even better are a couple we've been reading recently by Ezra Jack Keats. You may know Keats from The Snowy Day (1962), his best known story, one I had vague and distant memories of having once read, primarily the "snow angel" page. Keats, a white New Yorker, was the first major children's author to center stories on black children in urban environments. How amazing must that have been 46 years ago, prior to the Civil Rights Act? The lead character in TSD is a boy named Peter, and he appears again as a supporting character, aged a decade, in Keats's Pet Show! (1972) Keats's pictures draw you in: the colorful collages of TSD, the 70s ghetto impressionism of PS! But the words keep us coming back. I love the staccato "Crunch crunch crunch. His feet sank into the snow" from TSD. I love the effortless dialogue and gentle humanism of PS! So does the Goof. Every night as we're getting her ready for bed, I'll ask, "What do you want to read tonight?" Every night for the last month her answer has been the same and it has been immediate. "Pet Show!"


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