Organized Rambling: That Weird Aunt

Organized Rambling

It was a foregone conclusion, even before my niece was born, that I was going to be that weird aunt.

The kind that knits gifts, buys clothes, and bestows books upon books unto children beginning at a very young age. For my niece, she received her first books from me while still in utero, so…yeah, I’m that weird aunt. I had already gotten in some practice with my godchildren and young cousins, but becoming a legit aunt meant all was fair game. I didn’t have to hold back anymore. Police Chief Brody said they needed a bigger boat while shark hunting in Jaws; I say, any child in my life is gonna need a bigger shelf.

The love of books comes naturally when you’re a writer. It’s important to read regularly and read a variety of genres and styles to grow your skillset and learn new tricks of your writerly trade. As a result, I have two full bookshelves, a yet-to-be assembled shelf that I currently (spatially) can’t accommodate, ten separate stacks of books on my floor, and a few boxes of books under my bed. Out of this ever-growing collection, several stacks are specifically children’s books–ones from my childhood and some that I’ve collected as an adult.

A mere snippet of one of my shelves.

I’ll admit that I predominately own tomes of fiction, but you’ll also find non-fiction, self-help, art history, cooking, and writing books in my stacks and piles. As an ephemera-obsessed packrat, I cherish each and every book, but I have to say that my assortment of children’s books and picture books always brings a smile to my heart.

While growing up, my brothers and I were regularly read to by our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and babysitters. We each had our favorite books, which changed periodically. Brother #1 loved P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go!, The Little Old Woman and the Hungry Cat by Nancy Polette, and Dogzilla by Dav Pilkey. Brother #2 was partial to Olivia … and the Missing Toy by Ian Falconer, The Little Dog Laughed, and Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats. I had many favorite books, but a few include Miriam Norton’s The Kitten Who Thought He Was a Mouse, The Three Little Kittens–a “First Little Golden Book,” and Buttermilk by Stephen Cosgrove. Animal books are pretty popular, eh?

Disney's paperback version of "The Lion King"
Disney’s paperback version of The Lion King.

Another book I was a bit obsessed with was the paperback Disney picture book detailing the animated film The Lion King. The film hit the silver screen in 1994 and was naturally a big hit with my preschool-age demographic, but this book was a force to be reckoned with. The story was 24 pages long, which I learned is typical of a standard children’s picture book during an online course I recently took (more on this further down). However, Disney did parents dirty with this one.

Normally, each page contains a smattering of words or a couple of sentences–palatable amounts of verbiage. But the pages of The Lion King offered tired and dry-mouthed parents (they had been answering children’s questions all day long) dense, meaty paragraphs in a small font size. And as a four-year-old, I did that magical thing that young children can do after several readings–I memorized the book. I memorized the book to the point where I was correcting my parents and insisting they go back and read the actual words instead of paraphrasing as if they could pull the proverbial wool over eyes that couldn’t yet read.

The Lion King may have been the mane, er, bane of my parents’ reading existence, but most children’s books are quite short. Specifically, nursery rhymes that don’t have an author attached to them aside from the nebulous “Mother Goose.”

The "Grandfa Grig" nursery rhyme.
The infamous and unexplained Grandfa Grig & his pig.

The Little Dog Laughed is a collection of rhymes and short stories, but there are none shorter than “Grandfa Grig.” At a whopping 20 words, “Grandfa Grig” tells the tale of an old man and his pig friend that sadly dies and makes Grandfa cry. Now, that is a strange story for young readers and listeners, but many fairy tales and nursery rhymes have much darker origins and meanings than we readily or willingly realize. (Side Note: I could not track down any Grandfa Grig provenance. His origins escape me.) This poem-like story is actually an accurate snapshot of life–people have pets and enjoy one another’s company, pets die, and the people are sad. I wish there could’ve been a happy ending about a new piglet or something, though, because as a human living in a messy world, I’m a fan of happy endings that distract me from reality, which is one of the main reasons why I read voraciously and gift books with an even higher level of intensity.

So, why talk about children’s books and admit that, as a woman in my 30s, I always peruse that section of a bookstore when I’m shopping? Well, aside from my personal collection that I routinely add to and the growing number of children I can shop for, I also view my perusal as research because I have some aspirations to write picture books myself.

BBC Maestro's "Writing Children's Picture Books with Julia Donaldson" online course.

Earlier this year, I took an online course through BBC Maestro–“Writing Children’s Picture Books” with Julia Donaldson, and it was an engaging, informative, and fun experience. Julia covered crafting a children’s picture book from the initial idea to marketing and promoting your finished piece. And even though thousands upon thousands of children’s books are written and submitted to publishers and literary agents each year, I still think I’m gonna give it a try.

The ideas roiling about in my mind include a book-hoarding dragon, an art turner (I’m gonna let you wonder about that one), a lonely giant, and primers that feature a bat character (big surprise, right?). These initial ideas may seem basic, static, or probably done already, but I think I have some unique quirks and details that will make them stand out when the time comes. Until then, I’ll continue supporting my favorite bookstores by purchasing children’s books for myself and the children in my life.

Recent acquisitions I’m very much in love with are Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, Dracula–a counting primer by Jennifer Adams, I Am Bat by Morag Hood, Mr. Pumpkin’s Tea Party by Erin Barker, and Henry in Love by Peter McCarty. Of course, these are just a sliver of my collection–I own too many for just being an aunt of a nine-month-old and a godmother to elementary-age kids. But that’s part of the charm that makes me that weird aunt. I think it’s a charming attribute anyway.

Regardless, I look forward to the day when I can be that weird aunt who introduces her niece to The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and the rest of her book loves. But for now, I’ll stick with tactile books about dragons, colorful books featuring bats, and peekaboo animal pop-up books and await the addition of further rapscallions who I can wave my wand over and turn into book-lovers like their weird doting aunt.

Call to Action!

I’d love to know your favorite children’s books or picture books! Please share your recommendations by commenting below or on this blog’s social media posts on Instagram (@writing_dailey) or Facebook (@WritingDailey).

Coming up next:

What it’s like being a writer (sounds boring, but I promise it’ll entertain)


9 responses to “Organized Rambling: That Weird Aunt”

  1. 1) Omg, I remember Owl at Home! Seeing your photo triggered this instant recall, haha. I was kinda basic as a younger kid. My favorite two series were the Chronicles of Narnia and the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. 2) Granfa Grig looks like maybe something Shel Silverstein wrote on an off-day? Lmao. And I’m genuinely surprised you haven’t written a children’s book already — it absolutely seems like your kind of thing and all of those ideas sound adorable!

    • Nothing wrong with some classics! I read both those series as well and I loved them. Hahaha, Grandfa Grig is strange and near and dear to my heart, lol. I’m pretty excited to take a stab at these children’s book ideas…eventually 😉

  2. Buttermilk!! I loved that one! And the Tiggy books, remember those?! This was such a fun blog post! I love children’s books, and I wanted to see the cover of every book mentioned! Also, loved the pic of you reading to Isaac. 💕

    • Your niece is indeed a lot like you were – she loves books! Like you at a very young age, she has the ability to sit through several stories.

      So, one favorite book I had was called The Two Too Twins, a little Tell A Tale book from 1966.
      Another library visit favorite was called The Little House, a 1954 classic. Another was a Scratch and Sniff book called The Sweet Smell of Christmas, 1970. I may have tried to taste the pictures, too – Lol.
      I could list so many more, but I will stop here.
      Books make such an impact on little minds. All of your book ideas are intriging and adorable. I can’t wait to see what lovely things you create for children!

      • Scratch & Sniff books were so intriguing…just like those delicious markers from elementary school…it would be cool if you could find “Sweet Smell of Christmas”–maybe it would still carry it’s aromas after almost half a century!

      • Sorry Bethany! I thought I was posting a comment! LOL. Uuughh. Old people!

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