Alex began devouring books at an early age. She was six months old when she reached out her tiny hand, grabbed a page from the book I was reading, ripped off a corner, and shoved it her mouth.
In a moment of sentimentality common only to first-time mothers, I grabbed a pen from the nearby end table and wrote “Alex ate this” by the newly serrated edge. Alex’s appreciation of books continued as she grew though, thankfully, her consumption turned figurative.
Her passion for books was fueled, I believe, by my obvious joy at reading aloud. I liked books, therefore, she liked books. She especially enjoyed stories with mother-child themes.
One of the first books she read to herself was P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? This sweet tale of a new baby bird looking for the mother he has not yet seen captivated my daughter; young Alex read that book to herself over and over again and, later, she read it to her little sister, Sage.
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Sage also took an early interest in books though, thankfully, she never mistook pages for hors d’oeuvres. She too preferred mother-child themes.
One early favorite was Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey. This charming story follows a mother and toddler daughter as they pick blueberries. As the two amble, we discover they’re not alone on the hill; a mother-daughter bear duo simultaneously enjoys their own share of berries. The book is beautifully illustrated and perfect for kids five and under.
As Alex and Sage grew, their tastes became more sophisticated and their desire for strong female characters more pronounced. They developed a particular interest in adventure tales, and were therefore thrilled when we discovered Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society with its two young female protagonists, Kate and Constance.
I read this book to the girls when they were seven and five years old. Though intended for a slightly older audience, the book immediately captured both my daughters’ attention. It’s the story of four intelligent and wonderfully odd children, two boys and two girls, saving the world from a group of evil grown-ups.
Jeff Smith’s graphic novel series, Bone, followed. I am profoundly grateful for this series! The girls and I took a two month road trip in the summer of 2010, and Bone is the sole reason my kids didn’t complain once about the long hours in the car.
The series relates the adventures of three blobby creatures from Boneville who find themselves lost in a dangerous land. The three Bones, Fone, Smiley, and Phoney, meet and ally themselves with two strong and fearless female protagonists, Grandma Ben and Thorn. As the series progresses, the Bones become immersed in an epic battle of good vs. evil.
This is a deep, involved series, yet it’s told with great humor and wit. When my girls first began reading this, they were too young to appreciate the series’ sophistication, but they were mature enough to enjoy the drawings and get the general gist. The constant humor overshadows the rare violence; that being said, there are a few drawings of creatures getting hurt, so parents might want to preview the series before buying it.
During the past two years, the Bone series has remained a favorite. The original volumes have been read so often they’ve fallen apart; we’re now on our second set. With each reading, the girls understand more of the plot’s intricacies.
Even now, two years after first reading the volumes, most of Alex and Sage’s spare time is spent pouring over Jeff Smith’s dialogue and illustrations. Since Thorn and consistently feisty Grandma Ben are two positive characters my girls can look up to, and since this series is just plain outstanding in every way, I approve of the girls’ apparent obsession.
I look forward to seeing what my girls relish next!
PATRICIA ELLIS HERR is the author of Broadway Books’ paperback original, UP: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure and the mother of two very active young daughters. UP recounts their always exhilarating – and sometimes harrowing – adventures climbing all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s highest mountains.
Don’t miss Patricia Ellis Herr’s RIF essay, “Empowering Steps” – she inspires parents everywhere to share the empowering experience of the outdoors with their children.