That First Book


My nonpregnant friend threw my pregnant friend a baby shower recently, and as a cute idea, we were told to avoid bringing cards but a children’s book with a message instead. So of course, this got me thinking about my own favorites, because when else can I inflict a book on someone young and impressionable? They don’t get younger or more impressionable than a newborn baby.

Of course that got me started on thinking about how these books formed my own reading and art taste — and it also made me over think if or how these books got me to start over thinking in the first place. So here’s a list.

The Berenstain Bears series



I collected these suckers. I remember going to garage sales on the weekend with my family, and I would scour the kids books for these. My mom would patiently crouch next to me as I we went through boxes and shelves and dollhouses full of kids books, making sure I didn’t have this one, this one, or this one. I got quite a collection over time, and I was really surprised to find out I could buy these from the kid’s section at Walden’s bookstore years later. I always thought they were special because I had to scrounge for them.

But these books are wonderful and sort of scary, come to think of it. I appreciate that Brother and Sister Bear have very informative names — like the parents just knew they would have a boy and a girl who would have to be related in this way! — but of course I got confused when the new baby came into the picture, because then what name would that one get?

I really appreciated the one where Sister and her friend with the green shirt — possibly named Green Shirt bear? — got in an argument over sharing dolls. I mainly just liked the art of two bears holding Barbie-like bears. Oh and learning a lesson about sharing, obviously.

What’s Up in the Attic?


Love. Love is in that attic.

Okay, well not really. Looking at it now, I realize where my desire to live like a hoarder comes from. This Little Golden Book was one of my favorites, probably because I got a glimpse of Bert and Earnie’s house, which Sesame Street didn’t really give me but also because they went into the attic and found really neat antiques! For instance, did you know that Bert and Earnie had a gramophone and a sewing mannequin? They also had a traveling trunk with patches of exotic locations.

The premise of going up to an attic on a rainy day has always appealed to me because of this, and because my mom disallowed me pulling down the ladder from the ceiling (Bert and Earnie’s mom did not prevent them from doing this), it just made the idea of an attic of stuff all the more romantic and exotic.

Tikki Tikki Tembo



I grew up with this obsession with names, and I think it’s because of this story. In it, we learn that the eldest son gets a longer name because he’s just that special, meanwhile the youngest gets a sneeze of a name because they already gave all the good names to his older bro. So when the youngest gets stuck in a well, it’s super easy for the oldest to ask for help, because he just yells to someone that his brother needs rescuing. The tides change when the eldest gets caught in the well — I suppose the mom thought they learned their lesson before? I mean, she really should’ve done something — and the youngest son has a mouthful of a name to pronounce, so it takes longer for help to be found. That’s why people in China have short names, or so the moral goes.

I wonder whether this story is offensive or not.

But I always had this obsession with names and how they frame a person. I always like to hear middle names too and full names of friends’ siblings, because I want to get a sense of what their parents are like. I used to keep lists of interesting names too. I mean, they were mainly for characters, possibly for dogs I want to own, but I scoured lists and stole from books and heard it on the street. I’m just weird that way. Blame this book.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


If I stub my toe, get gum in my hair, get pooped on by a pigeon, I will say that I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. To this day, I call it that, and much like Alexander in this book, I will bemoan life and wish I were in Australia.

Then again, I question why I am not in Australia even if I’m having a good day, like “damn, today’s pretty neat. It would be neater in Australia though . . . ”

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs


Not only does this book make me want meatballs and pancakes after I read it, but it also makes me want to draw food. I really appreciate the cross hatching in the illustrations. I like how rough it looks and how the simple and clean it all is. I mean, big food falling from the sky like rain? Of course the pictures have to look tasty.

This is the book I inevitably chose to get for the baby, mainly because I figured that if someone at that party had to bring a book about oversized food, it better be the McDonald’s food fan, namely me.


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