MY BOOK HOUSE was one of the greatest treasures of my childhood. A twelve-book series where every volume addressed a particular age. Many of the greatest stories of Western literature had a place in the volumes: stories from Shakespeare, stories from opera, heroes and icons of European and American literature, biographies, histories, you name it! Twelve volumes! Every succeeding volume kicks it up a notch.
My little brother and I received our set when we were around 7 and 8. My oldest brother sent it to us along with a couple of other book sets. I still remember opening the boxes! We were a reading family and so opening the boxes and pulling them out was like Christmas. They were beautiful! We made room for the set in the house like most people make room for furniture and family portraits. Inside each volume was a fascinating world waiting to be explored. Nowadays, it’s easy to explain that the books were intellectually stimulating. But back when I was 8, all I express was that the books made me hungry. They made my eyes and my mind and my spirit hungry. But kids being kids, grandkids, spring cleaning, moving family members in and out — life put the kabosh (sp?) on the set and by the time I was in junior high, the one or two that were left were pretty ragged. Then, in 2005, I decided to take a chance on eBay. Oh my God! Long story short…the end.
Sorry, too short. On eBay, I found a set published roughly the same time as the set I had. When I won that auction, I was singing a Hallelujah chorus a capella. When I brought the set home from the post office, I went through about five of the books right away. Looking at the illustrations, I felt overwhelmed by how familiar they felt. I remembered my early reactions to them. They just felt so, so familiar, like I had never been away from them. I remembered where my favorite bits from the stories were. Even back when I was 8 and 9 years old, I was captivated by a particular turn of phrase or description. It’s all magic!
The left and right end papers. They appear at the beginning and end of every volume. It was fun to figure out who all the characters were. All the characters were featured in stories in the various volumes.
VOLUME 1: IN THE NURSERY
The first volume in the series is nursery rhymes from all around the world, even places as exotic as Africa, what used to be Czechoslovakia, and Asia. All the Americas are represented including Native American cultures. Now, having been in reprints since the 1920s, some expressions and images are no longer politically correct. I would not recommend this set for a classroom. Better it should be enjoyed in a family setting where certain ideas can be discussed. The rhymes are shamelessly euro-centric. Think of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Charles Perrault and Mother Goose — completely anglo-centric. These are not black marks against the book though. It’s simply our Western literary heritage. A modern child brought up on rap music and bombarded by sexual-oriented images might experience some serious culture shock at the purity and innocence of the rhymes and stories. Even the illustrations are fossils of an era utterly gone from our modern consciousness. I loved the illustrations! I loved the innocence of them. They look like they are from the 1950s. As a wee girl, I was fascinated by the illustrations of little girls’ dresses — voluminous skirts and ballet slippers and CURLS! Oh! to have curls was my dream even more than being a ballerina. Many of the illustrations in this volume are by Mariel Wilhoite.
This particular volume is partly why I grew into such a devoted Anglophile. I just wanted the dresses! LOL.
Even reading through the table of contents was interesting (does anyone else pay attention to tables of content?). Most of the rhymes don’t have official titles and so just go by the first line. As the first introduction to language, many of the rhymes start with an alliterative or onomatopoeic phrase:
- Goosey, Goosey Gander
- Hickory Dickory Dock
- Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake
Then there’s the "Littles":
- Little Jack Horner
- Little Bo-Peep
- Little Miss Muffet
- Little Nanny Etticoat
- Little Beppo Pippo
- Little Boy Blue
Also represented is a child’s fascination with objects: (some call this the "terrible twos")
- I had a little dog…
- I had a little husband…
- I had a little mule…
- I had a little nut tree…
There’s even instructions for the correct way to play "Farmer in The Dell"! This book is a celebration of innocence. It’s a language primer. It’s the beginning of literacy. It should be read with an open heart and open mind, for fun.