It shocks me that my kids are Californians. Such a big part of my identity is being a New Englander (hard worker, slower to make friends but keep them for life, total discomfort talking about money, Sox and Celtics fan to the death, etc.). Somehow in my head I skirt the fact that I’ve now lived in Los Angeles longer than anywhere else, and that my kids were born and (so far) raised here. They don’t own cold weather clothes, have played in the snow exactly once when visiting Oregon, and even think they like the Lakers! So it’s probably not as subconscious as I think that I’ve introduced to our home library a few children’s books that remind me of home. Introducing the kids to those seemingly unimportant and funny things like accents and attitudes I grew up with has become both important and special for me. It’s showing them a side of myself, the same way we listen to showtunes in the car and spend at least an hour a day cooking together.
The Wicked Big Toddlah by Kevin Hawkes
I LOVE reading this book, with its sprinkling of words like “wicked” and pictures of maple syrup tapping and flannel wearing relatives. And the kids love the funny touches they look for in the pictures — like how Toddie needs a garden hose and helicopter to have his diaper changed. New Englanders and New Yorkers alike will love the sequel, The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes To New York.
Duck, Duck, Moose by Dave Horowitz
Other Horowitz books, like A Monkey Among Us and Five Little Gefiltes were already huge hits at our house, so we took this one home from the library without even cracking the spine. I was even more delighted than the kids to find that it was about a moose who heads south with his duck friends for the winter when he realizes everyone else is departing or hibernating, and even the Pancake Hut is closed. This book had me at the “I heart NH” t-shirt.
Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
I love this book. I loved it as a kid — it reminded me of the Little House series and of visiting Plymouth Plantation. I was so thrilled to rediscover it with my own kids and find that they also love this simple story of a man and his family who toil all winter to sell things in town. The labor is to buy the things they need that they cannot make to get through another winter. (If you’re new to Hall’s work, try reading his essays of growing up in New England, String Too Short to Be Saved yourself. I adore it.)
A Farmer’s Alphabet by Mary Azarian
This is one of those alphabet books, like All Aboard! that belongs equally on the coffee table and a child’s bookshelf. It’s a beautiful book, and it depicts a beautiful lifestyle with simplicity and honesty. It offers tons to talk about, from making up stories about life on the farm to discussing the woodcutting technique in the illustrations. Azarian also illustrated one of Donald Hall’s other beautiful children’s books, The Man Who Lived Alone. (Caution: that book has made me cry every single time I’ve read it, from the time I was five right through to now when I just reread it to test myself.)
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
I was tempted to put my favorite McCloskey book on the list (Make Way for Ducklings), but I took the kids blueberry picking once when they were little, and we rediscovered this book and have really been enjoying it. Even if blueberry picking isn’t a part of your childhood memories, this may leave you thinking about what summer produce said “SUMMER!” to you (blueberries and corn for New Englander me, tomatoes and watermelon for my New Jersey raised husband). See if you can take your kids to pick and eat that (or some other local summer treat) fresh. We’ve really been enjoying selections summer produce as a family, and sharing our own memories (verbal and visceral) with our kids.
Where did you grow up? What did you do as a child? Are you a city kid or a country kid? Did you play certain sports or take part in specific activities? Think about the things in your childhood that helped inform who you are, and that are different from how or where your kids are being raised. Seek out some books that will introduce your childhood to your kids.