When I was a very young child, according to my mother, my favourite book in the whole wide world for a few months was P D Eastman's Are You My Mother? In that obsessive way that toddlers have, I was wont to demand the book several (or more) times a day, and it had to be read with a particular inflection, with a deep voice for the cow and a piping voice for the baby bird, with actions and gestures just-so.
And woe bedtide the unwary reader who didn't realise that it was *my* 2-year-old prerogative to shout "Are oo my MUVVER?" at the correct textual junctions. My mother still smiles over a memory of my tiny 2-year-old self berating an unsuspecting aunt for 10 straight minutes for this grave infraction. My aunt, I am told, was terrified of reading to me for years afterwards ;-)
Although I have no conscious memories of this phase, it's obviously still there bubbling away in my pre-memory long-term storage, because when I started reading it to A, my firstborn, for the first time, I was instantly deeply familiar and embedded in the text. I even found myself putting on the voices, quite reflexively. And it seems the magic hasn't faded in the generation that's elapsed since then. All three of my children have been similarly enchanted, as toddlers, by not just Are You My Mother but by all of P D Eastman's classic books.
A children's author, illustrator and screenwriter for animated studios, Phillip Dey Eastman produced three books in particular in his career that have formed a permanent and beloved fixture in my family's one to three-year-old reading rota. Are You My Mother?, my own childhood favourite, was also the favourite of my eldest daughter. She loved to sit on my knee and be bounced around as I read, "The egg jumped. It jumped, and jumped, and jumped!"
My secondborn's favourite Eastman was, and still is, Go, Dog, Go! As an adult reader, I particularly heart this book, with its engaging illustrations, its clear colours, and its seamless weaving of simple opposite pairs and concepts (up / down, in / out, over / under, stop / go) with a funny, clever little story. My 5-year-old, as a toddler, would literally squeak with excitement every time we got up to the grand finale of the book ("A dog party! A big dog party! WHAT a dog party!")
My 22-month-old also loves Go, Dog, Go! but is also very fond indeed of Eastman's The Best Nest. She likes the sing-song quality of this text, the simple repetition, and the deceptively cartoonish but also very clean imagery. Like her mother before her, she has phrases that are hers to say, and no-one else's ("LUFF my 'ouse, LUFF my nest, All Worl' this nest BEST!" she hollers in delight).
I wonder if there are many English-speaking children who get through childhood without encountering Eastman at some point. Like Dr Seuss, he's rightly ubiquitous in early reader circles. And that's a good thing by me - these books are well-written, well-illustrated, and enormously appealing to parents and children alike.
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