And I am talking about a strange addiction here.
You must all know there was a period last year when my addiction was out of control.
Yet, please understand, I was powerless to fight the urge.
After tasting something as pure as heaven, my will-power collapsed in a single day.
No more self-control.
No more restraint.
I bought all (available) books penned by Robert McCloskey. With just one click.
My addiction to McCloskey's pure and distilled love for children was fuelled with the first three Robert McCloskey picture books that we already had in our home.
After being blown away by his timeless picture book troika (Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine), I convinced myself that McCloskey could do no wrong.
I wished all his books were here.
So one October evening, a bored worker at Amazon's warehouse had the strange task of preparing and shipping "a Robert McCloskey package" that contained one copy of Robert McCloskey's Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man, Lentil, Homer Price, Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price and Time of Wonder.
The warehouse worker packing the books was probably yawning at that moment, but I?
Was I happy? No, I was ecstatic!
And yet I had absolutely no idea what I was getting.
I just knew I was about to receive a box full of McCloskeys.
A Deep, Deep Blue
Amazement awaits us at every corner.
Did I know that Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man was a good book when I bought it?
No. I simply had to have it.
My first impressions, you ask?
|Burt Dow's geraniums and Indian peas |
from The Art of Children's Picture Books
d. My kids would certainly not like it. A book about an old retired sailor? Hmmm...
e. I predicted they would stand only the first two pages before jumping up from their seats.
I resigned myself to a probable defeat.
OK, Read Aloud Dad - you win some, you lose some.
Clearly, I acted rashly when I ordered all those books.
This book gathered dust for a couple of months on our bookshelf, until finally I decided it was time to change our standard McCloskey fare.
I brought out Burt Dow one evening with low expectations and then ... out of the blue.. my 3-year old kids amazed me.
They listened to the curious story of Burt Dow, his two old boats, his sister Leela that keeps the house for him and Burt's unlikely pet - a giggling gull.
|Make your own "Burt Dow boat" (via Foxhaven Journal)|
They hanged to every word about old Burt Dow pumping water out of his old dory, the problems he had to start up the old engine and how his fishing trip was initially unsuccessful.
Nothing really dramatic happens in the first 25 pages of the book, and yet I did notice that my twins were listening carefully.
We stopped reading at the mid-point as they were getting a bit restless, so we agreed to finish the book the next day.
I thought realistically there would be no tomorrow for Burt Dow.
Yet, 24 hours later my little pumpkins keenly continued and we read together about Burt Dow's fascinating encounter with a whale that swallowed him and his old dory .. all together with the giggling gull. And how Burt and the gull found an ingenious way to get out.
My two listeners wanted to read the story until the very end ... and we finished the 64-page book in two days.
That's it! We made it.
I was happy that the book served its role at least once. We would probably come back to it after several months, but this would be no favorite of theirs - I was sure.
The next time when we came back to Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man - surprise, surprise!
My kids were snickering like mad at the name of his old boat the Tidley-Idley! And the giggling gull caught their fancy.
|Burt Dow surrounded by whales (via kitriandtheanimals)|
We had a non-stop reading session - the whole book in one read.
They were laughing like crazy at the gull.
They kept repeating "Tidley-Idley, Tidley-Idley!
And they were silent as a pair of church mice, while we were reading the part when Burt Dow encountered the whale.
Their eyes were wide open. Their lips were apart.
They were absorbing the fantastic vocabulary.
And this time - I knew I had to look a bit closer at what was really hapenning.
There was something going on here that I was missing.
Simple Does It
Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.
My kids adored Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man
My worries that this book would be less accessible to my boy and girl than their all-time favorites Make Way For Ducklings or Blueberries for Sal were completely unfounded.
In fact, I surprised myself with how low my expectations were. My kids enjoyed this book every single time that we read it, so much so that they could not take their eyes off it during any reading session.
Was it the realistic tone of the story? Or was is it the "grown-up" theme of an old man going out fishing in his old dory? Or was it just the pure distilled Robert McCloskey magic touch?
|Burt Dow painting boat from The Art of Children's Picture Books|
Yet, what I know is that children's authors who treat their listeners as equals command a great respect in the hearts of my twins.
My twins are children, of course, yet that does not mean that they accept to be treated as inferiors.
And this is the greatest lesson that Robert McCloskey shares with us.
He understands that being young does not automatically beget unequal treatment.
Young or old, we are all equals.
Why can't a good children's story be demanding, involving, multi-layered - yet based in everyday, real life?
Children do not wish only to hear fairy tales or simplified stories tailored for kids.
Kids also love such books that give them a taste of pure interaction between humans and nature.
Our family celebrates Robert McCloskey as one of the greatest teachers of the finest things in life.
Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man is a testament to something that is lost in modern times.
A pure love of living .... coupled with a deep breath of fresh sea air in your lungs.
You have been properly warned of the risk.
It is highly addictive.
Burt Dow, Deep Water Man is available from bookstores in the US:
The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)
and other countries