Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Because I Grew Up Reading Children's Books...

If you grow up reading children's books, you'll carry enough images and associations with you to last a lifetime.

I thought about that at 5:45 this morning.

Actually, I think about it all the time -- especially since buying a house last year.

I've always heard that you have to make decisions and concessions when you purchase a home. Do you want the house with the huge kitchen or the one with the big backyard? Would you prefer a walk-in closet or an extra bathroom -- you can't have both?

In my case, I wanted a single-story house. Then I discovered one with a basement just right for a library and changed my mind.

I also would have preferred a house with lots of windows, but when I found one that had a back patio facing a beautiful duck pond, I opted for the pond.

I still love the pond but, you know, I sort of miss having windows!

It's not that the front of the house has NO's just that the front window looks out at a tiny courtyard -- and the back of the neighbors' garage. The window in my bedroom looks into the same same courtyard -- and the side of the neighbors' house. Everyone who visits says the same thing: "You're really tucked away back here" or "This house is kinda dark" or "Wow, you are really sequestered from the world!"

Because I grew up reading children's books, my dark windowless existence sometimes has me imagining that I live, like Sam Gribley in MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, in the dark confines of a hollowed-out tree. Or underground, like the mouse family in MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH.

Lying in bed at night, I can only see one small square of sky from my bed.

Because I grew up reading children's books, this tiny patch of sky makes me feel like Harriet the Spy or Dave Mitchell from IT'S LIKE THIS, CAT -- New Yorkers who lived in the concrete canyons of Manhattan and could probably only see a postage-stamp view of the sky from their beds as well.

Today at 5:45 AM, I suddenly woke up, almost blinded by bright light. My pillow seemed to be glowing in the dark. It took me a second to realize where the light was coming from. The full moon had risen directly into the small square of sky above my window...

...and the moonlight shining on my pillow had woken me up.

(Okay, that looks more like a sonogram than a brightly lighted bed...but you try finding your camera without turning on any bedroom lights, stubbing your toe in the darkness, clicking your camera's on/off switch, selecting the correct setting, and snapping the shutter -- and then tell me how good your photographic skills are in the pre-dawn darkness!)

Because I grew up reading children's books, the whole scenario reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books. First published in England as THE MAGIC BED-KNOB:

Then later merged with a sequel and published in one volume known as BEDKNOB AND BROOMSTICK:

I've only been awakened by moonlight a few times in my life, but every time it happens I'm reminded of the scene in Mary Norton's novel where three siblings, Carrie, Charles, and Paul, discover the village eccentric, Miss Price, on the lawn with a sprained ankle. As they help her home, Paul carries a broomstick that he found on the ground nearby, explaining to the others that Miss Price must have sprained her ankle falling from it; he'd seen her flying on the broomstick for several nights:

"Paul, why didn't you tell us you'd seen Miss Price on a broomstick?"

"I dunno."

"But, Paul, you ought to have told us. We'd have liked to see it, too. It was very mean of you, Paul."

Paul did not reply.

"When did you see her?"

"In the night."

Paul looked stubborn. He felt as if he might be going to cry. Miss Price always passed so quickly. She would have been gone before he could call anyone, and they would have said at once, "Don't be silly, Paul." Besides, it had been his secret, his nightly joy. His bed was beside the window, and when the moon was full, it shone on his pillow and wakened him. It had been exciting to lie there, with his eyes fixed on the pale sky beyond the ragged blackness of the cedar boughs. Some nights he did not wake up. Other nights he woke up and she did not come. But he saw her often enough, and each time he saw her, she had learned to fly a little better. At first she wobbled so, balanced sideways on the stick, that he wondered why she did not ride astride. She would grip the broomstick with one hand and try to hold her hat on with the other, and her feet, in their long shoes, looked so odd against the moonlit sky. Once she fell -- and the broomstick came down quite slowly, like an umbrella blown inside out with Miss Price clinging to the handle.

Because I grew up reading children's books, I've held that image in my mind for nearly fifty years: the young boy awakened by bright moonlight, the amateur witch learning to fly her broomstick right outside his window....

So is it any wonder that this morning, after being awakened by bright moonlight (and wandering around in the dark and stubbing my toe, and taking those photographs), that, when I finally got back to bed, I continued staring up at the moon floating in that tiny square of sky for another half hour...hoping I'd see Miss Price, or some other amateur witch, flying her broomstick through the night and silhouetted against the moon?


Sean said...

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is one of my all-time favorites, too. I read my beat-up copy at least once a year. I love the exchange between the police sergeant and the inspector in Chapter 6, when the sergeant's trying to explain how the bed vanished from the courtyard. And when Carey tells Aunt Beatrice to lick the bed.

Heather Woollove said... especially lovely post!

Bybee said...

Nice shot of the moon!

Fawn (Skat the Cat) said...

The story of the book "Bedknob and Broomsticks" is quite charming and funny. Kids would surely enjoy its nice illustrations and a wonderful storyline. Thanks for reminding me about this great book!

Esperanza said...

When I watch the moon crossing my window I always think of Good Night Moon. I am renovating a newly purchased 1920s bungalow. If I build in lots of windows and bookcases that entirely takes care of my needs. And I want one of those bookcases to slide aside revealing the secret passage to all those story worlds.

Fawn (Skat the Cat) said...


It's been awhile since I was here but I'm really glad to back. A lot of books have inspired me to write my own book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is one of them.

My first children's picture book, Skat the Christmas Cat, is now available in e-book format on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It's a story about a homeless cat who finds an unlikely way into someone's heart and home. I have created a contest to promote my book, by giving away a free Kindle Fire!

I'll be really glad if you will check for more details about the contest.

Participate and have fun!