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The Books My Parents Read to Me

In 2014, Katie Bircher wrote this Out of the Box post about "a cause dear to my dance-lovin' heartThe Dance Happy Project..The project was initiated by eleven-year-old Georgia Bernbaum, who writes on the Dance Happy site that her goal is to "bring dance classes to more children, children who would not normally have access to dance lessons." Georgia, now in high school, recently wrote the following article about picture books from her childhood that helped shape the young woman she is today.

I am a senior in high school, and like many others, I am always thinking about college.

This month, while participating in a college application workshop, the instructor asked us to identify our three core values and to thread these principles into our essays. As I narrowed my list of values, I realized that mine were ones found in my favorite childhood picture books. Emilie Buchwald wrote, "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." We are made much more than readers; we are dreamers, creators, and leaders. The early picture books our parents read to us help form our character and shape our understanding. Here are some of mine.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch; illus. by Michael Martchenko

The Paper Bag Princess was my all-time favorite book when I was younger and I would beg my father to read it to me every night before bed. The timeless book is a modern retelling of the stereotypical princess story, with a central theme of female empowerment. It is no surprise that I am now passionate about social justice for women and children. The story begins in Princess Elizabeth’s castle where she is set to marry Prince Ronald. Their plans are foiled, however, when a dragon attacks the kingdom and kidnaps the prince. With her castle destroyed and her dress ruined, Elizabeth has to be resourceful. She finds a paper bag to wear and sets off to rescue the prince. Elizabeth outsmarts the dragon and saves Ronald using her ingenuity. Despite saving him, Ronald is dissatisfied with her appearance and tells Elizabeth to come back when she looks like a “real princess.”  In response, Elizabeth leaves Ronald and dances off into the sunset. This book is an entertaining read that champions strong, independent, and intelligent girls.

Elmer the Patchwork Elephant by David Mckee

Elmer the Patchwork Elephant was another title that was ever-present among the shelves in my room. Elmer is not like the other elephants: while all the others are gray, Elmer is rainbow. He is self-conscious of his differences, so to blend in, Elmer paints himself gray using berries. Once painted, Elmer returns to his friends, but no one recognizes him. At first, he enjoys being like everyone else but soon realizes how dreary things are without his usual humor. Elmer’s “true colors” are finally revealed once it begins to rain, and the gray berries wash off of him. All the other elephants are thrilled to see Elmer again, and in celebration decide to dedicate an annual holiday to him in which alll the other elephants paint themselves patchwork, just like Elmer. The book teaches essential values, including appreciating diversity and promoting individuality, lessons that are especially relevant in today’s society with the growing Black Lives Matter movement.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson

This book was published in 2015, so it was not one of my childhood picture books. However, it is a Newbey Medal winner; a New York Times Bestseller; and highly recommended by Amanda Gorman,  Youth Poet Laureate and activist. Gorman loves Last Stop on Market Street because of its appealing visuals and touching message, “making [her] enjoy reading it even as a young adult .” The story is about a young boy named CJ. While walking with his grandmother during a storm, he asks why they have to walk in the rain. Later, as they are riding the bus, CJ asks why they do not have a car. Each question is met with a creative response from his grandmother, encouraging him to have a more positive outlook and appreciate the subtle beauty in life. The book concludes with CJ and his grandmother volunteering at a soup kitchen, helping others in their community. The author and illustrator focus on representation, whether it be racial or disability. They also highlight and explain economic inequality in an easy to understand format.

William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow; illus. by William Pene du Bois

William’s Doll was published in 1972 and was the first children’s book to address unconventional gender norms. William, more than anything, wants a doll to play with. But his father, not understanding the request, buys him more "traditional" toys. He gives William a basketball and trains, and although William enjoys these new toys, he continues to ask for a doll. Because of this, William is teased by his brother and the other boys in the neighborhood. When his grandmother visits, William tells her that all his wants is a doll to care for, and to his surprise, she buys it for him. The grandmother explains to William’s father that a doll will help William practice parenting, so eventually, he can be a good father. This book challenges stereotypes and helps teach children the importance of acceptance.

 

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

An essential in every home library, Harold and the Purple Crayon is a story of potential. According to seventeen-year-old Katie Stagliano, founder of Katie’s Krops, “We each have our own purple crayon and we can choose how we shape our world.”  Harold is a young boy with a large imagination who creates a land of his own with only a purple crayon. Harold wants to go on a walk in the moonlight, so he draws a moon and a walkway, literally paving his own path. The book continues on as Harold draws an apple forest, a dragon, a sailboat, and his favorite pie. Unbound by others’ expectations and rules, the possibilities are endless. This book encourages children to be creative and pursue their dreams.

 

 

Rose’s Garden by Peter H. Reynolds

Rose’s Garden is an extraordinary book. My parents gave it to me on my 100th day of first grade, with the inscription: “You are the center of our world and we hope you enjoy this book about a girl exploring her world.” As I have gotten older, I have realized that the story is not about Rose but instead about the importance of a community in accomplishing one’s goals. After traveling in her teapot, Rose decides to settle down. She discovers a “forgotten stretch of earth” and decides to breathe new life into the patch. She plants her few seeds and waits for them to grow, through rain and snow, Rose perseveres. Word of her determination spread throughout the town, and soon others were inspired by her sheer passion. Each day, more and more children would bring Rose a paper flower. A piece of land that was once Rose’s garden had become everyone’s garden, something bigger than herself. Rose found a home and others found a purpose. Not only is it a beautifully illustrated book, but it is an example of a young girl’s commitment to her vision.

Literature is influential, and each book I have suggested teaches morals, shapes perspective, and builds character. Children are our future and they are capable of monumental achievements, of making history. So, we must inspire and motivate them, for whatever cause they find important is worth fighting for.

Georgia Bernbaum

At just eleven years old, Georgia Bernbaum founded The Dance Happy Project to support homeless youth. Now a high school senior, Georgia draws on the love of words she developed as a young reader to advocate  for women and children on a wide range of social justice issues, from political representation to immigration reform, and she has won numerous awards for her feature and editorial writing.

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Margo Bartlett

Hello, Georgia,"Last Stop on Market Street" is a wonderful story. My older grandson, more than his cousin and his younger brother, likes stories about real life, and this one was absolutely right. "A Bike Like Sergio's" is another good one, should you ever come across it.Good luck with the college decision-making. One thing about that: By the end of the year, the decision-making part will be done. Not like magic, but still: done.

Posted : Sep 24, 2020 08:03


Mitzi Brown

Georgia, you are an amazing young woman. What wonderful reading is in store for me when I visit my library’s kiddie-lit section. It matters not that I’m in my late seventies. Can’t wait to get started on this new reading list.

Posted : Sep 18, 2020 08:16


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