• Benjamin Fife

ReadingMagic -What kid's book did/do you read to your kids over & over & over & over & over...Day 27

THE BIG BOOK. That's what we call it. Everyone in the house knows what book we mean. We have literally thousands of books in our home, and a good share of them could be called objectively or subjectively "big." But when we say "the big book," there's only one that we mean. I believe it was a Christmas present from my wife's parents, who got one for each of their daughter's families around 14-15 years ago. I can date it pretty accurately because I know because our oldest was not yet reading and the second was still too young to even get most of the stories, and there are some strange things that have hung on for over a decade that are a must with any reading of The Big Book.



So what is The Big Book? Its actual title is Harper Collins Treasury of Picture Book Classics - A Child's First Collection. I could not have told you this without looking at the cover even though I have held this book in my lap on probably thousands of days at this point. It's got 12 books contained within its capacious borders by as many authors and illustrators. I've got my favorites, and not so favorites in this book, but it has been a delightful tradition to read it again ad nauseum in our family as little ones have arrived & continued to do so. Rather than list them all off & go through our strange traditions with them all, I'll just list a few to give you an idea of why we've loved it so.


I'm not sure if I've ever read From Head to Toe accurately as to what's on the page. It reads "I am a gorilla and I thump my chest. Can you do it? I can do it!" Instead, we or they do the action together & I have always said "you can do it!" My eight year old was incredibly adorable as a non-speaking toddler who could raise her shoulders like a buffalo better than anyone else on the planet.


John Steptoe's Baby Says has always been among the first words any of our children learned to "read." It consists of 7 words and some exceedingly adorable pictures to tell a story.





Margaret Wise Brown & Clement Hurd's Goodnight Moon is fun from the time a baby can spot the mouse on each colored page. And goodnight mush. That just says it all. And depending on the mood I'm in when reading it, often, the "quiet old lady whispering 'hush'," was "crazy old lady."


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie... This story has a climax that the uninitiated into the Fife family traditions will miss. SCOTCH TAPE!!!! Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond forgot to make it in capital letters and add the 4 exclamation points. Silly girls. And sometimes the mouse signs his name with an axe. Different children would get rather upset by that substitution.



Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon is one that for some reason, always needs some time before a toddler will let you read it all the way through. But then imagination kicks in & they start to get it at some point. Our oldest was the one who first suggested that the terribly frightening dragon was hiding behind the whole city full of windows and it has just stuck. Numbers 4 & 5 and I recently decided that he in fact works in said city as an accountant.


And every Thanksgiving, we have to make all 9 kinds of pie that Harold liked best. Or 12. Or 15.


I don't think it was until I started reading them with #4 that I decided to change some of the voices on her requests that I had gotten a little tired of. The first victim of my vocal atrocities was Russell and Lillian Hoban's A Baby Sister for Frances.

Quick cast rundown: Frances is kind of Darth Vader sans mask for tone & pitch levels meets Captain Kirk for strange dramatic pauses. Frances' Father is Mickey Mouse. Frances Mother is Aunt Jemima but sassy. Or something like that. It's unclear whether Gloria is the family pet who is being fed the new baby due to my omission of a comma, or if Gloria is the new baby. But either way the word..... Cozy.... always sounds slightly ominous. It wasn't really that I didn't like A Baby Sister for Frances. I just wanted to change it up a bit. But after I had done it once, it was cemented there. Within a week I think, I heard one of the older kids reading it to one of the younger ones that way. It went from being one I didn't mind reading to #1 favorite pretty quick with my artistic license.


Victim #2 of my vocal atrocities - Esphyr Slobodkina's telling of Cap's for Sale. And I'll be honest here. I really was sick of this one. It's uber repetitive and slightly weird. The only character who says anything is the peddler (the monkeys say "tszz tszz tszz" - I'm pretty sure no monkeys ever made such a sound). So my alteration: The peddler is Bobcat Goldthwaite. No wonder no one would buy his caps.

That's a rundown on just some of the oddities that have grown out of regular reading of these beautiful books that comprise the experience that in our family is THE BIG BOOK.

We've beat this book up & re-taped the binding multiple times There are pages that are taped, and a couple that are nearly missing. The bottom of the pages are slightly warped from where I've naughtily slid my thumb under to turn the page from the middle of the book instead of grabbing the page by the edge. We've LOVED this book.


Christmas Eve 2020 we were at my in-laws house again & they handed me a present to open. The weight was right. The thickness felt right, though just a little slimmer. I even said, "Ooh! Do we get a new Big Book!" I tore open the wrapping & there it was, sure enough. But we can't bear to get rid of the old one! We'll probably give the newer one to one of our kids when they start having kids. I'll still read from The Big Book to my 6 & 8 year old kids now and their youngest brother at 19 months is getting to where he'll sometimes let me finish Harold.


Does your family have a book like this? Do you want to hear me read Frances? I might have to reach out to the Hoban's for permission... but I'm not sure they'd like my interpertation.