The concept of this blog is to read all of the books that I own, but have not already read. So, why did I break my rule on the very first post and choose Richard Scarry’s Best Story Book Ever instead of choosing say, Don Quixote or Round Ireland with a Fridge?
Because it’s THE BEST STORY BOOK EVER, and it’s filled with 82 wonderful round-the-year stories and poems. The fact that I’ve read it one hundred and ninety-nine billion times as a child doesn’t matter.
I’ve never read it as an adult.
This was the first book I learned to read. My grandmother had to bribe me with candy and ice cream to sound out big words like “bear” and “went” and “chalet”. I distinctly remember telling her that I did not need to learn how to read and that reading was stupid.
She told me that if I didn’t learn to read, then I’d never make it as an adult. She asked me how I would get the news if I couldn’t read the newspaper.
I snarled. Someone would tell me. That’s how.
She asked me how I could be sure they wouldn’t lie to me about the news.
I asked her how could I be sure the newspapers weren’t already lying to me? I believe we went to McDonalds after that.
Back then the book seemed impossibly large. I never thought I’d finish all two hundred and eighty-eight pages, and I’d sure as hell never, ever be able to sound out “helicopter”.
Now I finish the book over the duration of one good soak in the tub, and I wish it took longer. The opening page shows Papa Bunny reading the Daily Carrot and the headline reads: TORTISE WINS RACE. I found that to be a metaphor for my career, where years ago, it just never made sense that the rabbit didn’t win. He was faster.
I start to remember the scent of purple ditto alphabet pages, warm to the touch, and clouds of chalk dust from when it was my turn to clean the erasers outside by banging them into the school’s brick walls. I close my eyes and I can hear the zip of my grandmother’s golden butterfly keeping cadence; she had the habit of tugging her charm along her necklace while she read, or thought, or smoked. These alphabet letters bring her back to me and make it just a little bit hard to keep on reading.
The pages between are filled with characters, old friends that I’ve missed, such as, Farmer Hee Haw, a donkey who works so hard on his farm that he doesn’t have time for friends, Ali Cat, Couscous the Algerian Detective, and Schtoompah The Funny Austrian.
I learn that this little pig cried, Wee-wee-wee-wee, I can’t find my way home. All this time I thought it was: Wee-wee-wee-wee, all the way home. I thought the pig was crying because he didn’t get any roast beef. Freaky when you imagine a pig eating a cow.
I learn that one should keep a light burning, so that the witches who live in your castle can find their way home at night. That you should never fish in the moat. That the crow was a silly bird for letting sweet talk fool her. That Henri Farman flew the first city-to-city flight. That the Albatros was the prize of German fighter squadrons in World War I and the Voisin was a French observation plane. That city mouse was a jerk. That one of the first locomotives was called “Puffing Billy” and was made in England. That contrary to my adult belief, Austrians are funny. That the alphabet has twenty-six letters that can compose an infinite amount of stories, and that we really aren’t children long enough.