I’m not so good with remembering the everyday details of my life. I can’t tell you the name of my eighth grade math teacher, or my freshman year dorm room number, or my cholesterol reading from my last checkup, or even who I had lunch with last Thursday (without checking my calendar first). Just last week, I’m not proud to admit, I forgot my parents’ 48th wedding anniversary. Compared to Jenny, whose institutional memory for every moment and triumph and hiccup of her life is downright scary photographic, I’m like the amnesiac guy from Memento: I should probably start tattooing every inch of my body with the little stuff — i.e., the important stuff — before it fades away forever. You know what I do remember, though, with almost perfect clarity? Finishing The Trumpet of the Swan when I was a kid. (I was eight. Or maybe nine. I forget!) I remember turning that last page, and not wanting it to end, thinking this was the best book I’d ever read, and having this vague sense that something was going on here that I didn’t quite understand — at least, not enough to articulate it — except maybe to say that the words on the page, and the way way they made me feel, were a whole lot more powerful than what I was getting from Strange But True Sports Stories. The last paragraph still crushes me:
On the pond where the swans were, Louis put his trumpet away. The cygnets crept under their mother’s wings. Darkness settled on woods and field and marsh. A loon called its wild night cry. As Louis relaxed and prepared for sleep, all his thoughts were of how lucky he was to inhabit such a beautiful earth, how lucky he had been to solve his problems with music, and how pleasant it was to look forward to another night of sleep and another day tomorrow, and the fresh morning, and the light that returns with the day.
The cygnets crept under their mother’s wings! Such a beautiful earth! The light that returns with the day! Dear, dear god. I would never forget this one. The Trumpet of the Swan was the book I would always think about when I thought about books from my youth, the book I would use to forge an identity apart from the big brother I revered (he was a devoted Stuart Little guy), the book I always imagined reading aloud to kids of my own. Which, thirty years later, I did.
Not only that, but I now push this book on my friends, too. Whenever someone has a baby, I go immediately to amazon and order up a copy — in hardcover, to ensure its longevity – secretly hoping that their kids will love it one day, too. But I also order other books — books for infants and toddlers and four-year-olds and eight- year-olds. Over the past few years, this has become our standard baby present, seven or eight books we’ve come to think of as a starter kit for the library we’d want, a gift that will keep on giving for years to come; a collection of books that will inspire some meaningful dinner table conversation. The list is always a little different, as I tailor it to the friend in question, but I generally pull from a list of books that I loved as a child, or came to love as a parent. I thought I’d write this list down here in case you need some good baby gift ideas…and so I won’t forget them. — Andy
Bruno Munari’s ABC by Bruno Munari (above)
What You’ll Remember About It: The extremely beautiful, graphic watercolors on a stark white background from this legendary artist and designer, and the fly that appears on every page.
I am A Bunny by Ole Rison, illlustrations by Richard Scarry
What You’ll Remember About It: The gorgeous, very un-Busytown illustrations from the great Richard Scarry, and the simple, tender story chronicling a year in the life of a bunny named Nicholas, who sleeps in a hollow tree and dreams of spring. (more…)