Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Bear of Very Little Brain

I was perusing one of our bookshelves the other day. We have two tall ones in our office/guest room, holders for the less prominent, slightly embarrassing, or shabby books in our collection. Here's where you'll find, among other titles, all the mass market paperbacks, stacked on the shelves in no order whatsoever: Seinglanguage sits next to The Golden Notebook, which sits next to Interview with the Vampire, which sits next to The Waterfall and Song of Solomon and The Kitchen God's Wife.

Tucked among all these grown-up books was a Dell paperback version of Winnie-the-Pooh. I had forgotten all about this book. When I flipped it open, two things caught my eye. First, the inscription:

(Yes, that's to me -- my family calls me "Sue". No one else is permitted to do so.)

And then, a note from my mother on a yellow Post-it note, dated Mother's Day 1997. It reads, "Someday you may want to read this to your own children."

In 1997 I had been married for one year. There were no children in even the remotest forecast, so I had slipped the book onto the shelf and promptly forgot about it.

It's funny that I discovered it now, when I've been looking for longer, chapter books to read to Sean.

We began reading it that same day. And here I have to make a confession: even though my beloved grandparents gave me this book, I don't think I ever read it. None of it seems familiar -- well, some of the stories have been Disney-fied; I've seen that Pooh movie. But the text itself and the illustrations are as new to me.

Sean loves the book; Allie professes to be interested but grows impatient quickly. Subtle signs, you know, like crawling into my lap to try to turn the page, demanding to find the pages with pictures, pointedly "reading" alternate, more compelling picture books out loud while I'm reading the Pooh text.

Has anyone else noticed how difficult it is to read AA Milne's prose out loud? It's almost like stream of consciousness for children -- long, rambling sentences that I find completely charming (and very British) but that I would think children may find difficult to follow. Like this:

"And if anyone knows anything about anything," said Bear to himself, "it's Owl who knows something about something," he said, "or my name's not Winnie the Pooh," he said. "Which it is," he added. "So there you are."


"Well, either a tail is there or it isn't there. You can't make a mistake about it. And yours isn't there."
"Then what is?"
"Let's have a look," said Eeyore, and he turned slowly around to the place where his tail had been a little while ago, and then, finding that he couldn't catch it up, he turned round the other way, until he came back to where he was at first, and then he put his head down and looked between his front legs, and at last he said, with a long, sad, sigh, "I believe you're right."

(May I just inject here that I LOVE Eeyore?)

I've found that the text challenges my dramatic-reading abilities -- to make the long chunks interesting and coherent I use lots of inflection and pauses and other actorly flourishes. It must be working; although Sean's attention flags a bit over some of the more tortuous passages, for the most part he follows the story pretty well. I am impressed and excited that he is now old enough to move beyond picture books. It opens a new world of books for us to read together.

And I'm so happy that I am sharing this book in particular with my own children, one that my mother knew I'd want someday; it's a bit like passing on a bit of my grandparents and my mother to the next generation.