Remembering my favorite childhood book

by Sarah S. Brannen, author and illustrator

Ever since my first book was published in 2008, I have been asked the same question in dozens of interviews:

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

For years, I protested that I couldn’t possibly answer the question; I have a favorite painting, a favorite drawing, a favorite piece of music, a favorite sound, but I love far too many books to choose a favorite.

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When I think about books that I loved as a child, I visualize one picture book after another, some famous, some less so: Peter Rabbit, Blueberries for Sal, Prince Bertram the Bad, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, One Morning in Maine, Melisande, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, The Nutshell Library, to name just a few.

I was complaining about this to my mother one day, when she reminded me that I did indeed have a favorite book when I was little: Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man by Robert McCloskey. As I look at the list of books I just spouted, it seems pretty clear that McCloskey was my favorite author when I was small. And my mother told me the following story, of which I have no memory.

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I was probably about four years old. My family was staying at Sand Beach Farm on Deer Isle, Maine. My parents had rented a small aluminum boat with an outboard motor, and we headed out for a picnic on an island. We motored along the shore, past McCloskey’s home. I had Burt Dow with me, which must mean that I loved it so much I took it everywhere. My parents pointed out McCloskey’s house and told me the author of my book lived there. I held the book over my head and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Mr. McCloskey, I love your book!”

As I said, I don’t remember doing this. I do remember seeing E.B. White’s sweet little wooden sailboat, “Fern,” on its mooring. The dingy was named “Wilbur.”

Well, after my mother told me the story, I bought a new copy of Burt Dow. (My childhood copy disintegrated long ago; I was the kind of kid who loved books to death). Just looking at the cover gave me a happy shiver. And the title page, with its pots of paint, big spill of pink, and a seagull happily leaving pink footprints? Heaven.

It had been far more years than I care to share since I read the story. But it was all there, so deeply embedded in my memory that I had forgotten where the images came from. The old dory planted with geraniums and sweet peas. The Tidely-Idely, with her make-and-break engine. The giggling gull. “Hit the deck, Burt, time to eat!” The peppermint-striped band-aids. “An old deep-water man like me always keeps a weather eye out.”

And the colors – murky green Maine water, the boat painted in all the colors left over from Burt’s odd jobs, the Pollack-like paint-splashed innards of the whale. And best of all, the spreads filled with whales of all sorts of yummy colors. Read it. You’ll see.

I’ll never know whether this is the book that made me want to be a children’s book illustrator. It was probably only one of many. But it was, definitely, my favorite.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Sarah S. Brannen is an award-winning illustrator of over 15 children’s books. She is the author and illustrator of Madame Martine and Madame Martine Breaks the Rules. She lives in Massachusetts but goes to Paris as often as possible. 

Remembering my favorite childhood book

Brazilian Picture Books: My childhood

Albert Whitman author Ana Crespo shares some of her favorite childhood picture books from Brazil in this week’s #Fridayreads. Ana is the author of The Sock Thief (Spring 2015), J.P. and the Giant Octopus (Fall 2015), and J.P. and the Polka-Dotted Aliens (Fall 2015).

I love picture books. So, as you can imagine, I read lots of them. For now, I have a good excuse – a five-year old who loves them as much as I do. However, I don’t think I will have the excuse for too long, as the five-year old will soon move on to more wordily adventures.

Born and raised in Brazil, the books I read as a child were not the same ones you probably read. Throughout my childhood, my two favorite picture books were Flicts by Ziraldo (a renowned Brazilian cartoonist) and Chapeuzinho Amarelo (Little Yellow Riding Hood) by Chico Buarque.

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Flicts tells the story of a lonely color. No one wants to play with Flicts because he’s different. Flicts travels the world looking for a place where he’s accepted, but finds none. He ends up in the moon. As Ziraldo tells it, “nobody knows, except maybe the astronauts” what color the moon is. On the very last page of the edition I have (but can’t find), Ziraldo says he met Neil Armstrong when the astronaut visited Brazil. After telling him about Flicts, Neil Armstrong confirmed, “The moon is Flicts.”

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Chapeuzinho Amarelo is about a little girl who spends her days doing nothing, because she’s afraid of everything. “She was afraid of thunder. For her, worms were snakes. And she was never caught under the sun, because she was afraid of the shadow,” Chico Buarque writes. Eventually, Chapeuzinho Amarelo gets over her fears, thanks to a play with words that just works in Portuguese. So creative!

Because I grew up abroad, I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to American picture book classics. The first time I read an Eric Carle book, for example, was in 2002. I had never heard of Lois Ehlert, Shel Silverstein, Leo Lionni, or even Dr. Seuss, until about a decade ago. And I am sure there are lots of wonderful authors and illustrators that I still don’t know.

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Of the most recent American picture books, some of my favorites are Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, The Dot by Peter Reynolds (and almost anything by Peter Brown and Peter Reynolds. What is it about Peters?).

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I also love Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, and Mark Pett’s The Boy and the Airplane and The Girl and the Bicycle. The five-year old excuse loves My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza, and The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle.

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However, I don’t read only picture books. I have a lot of catching up to do in other genres too. I love the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Angela’s Ashes is possibly my favorite book ever. I just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I also enjoyed.

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Before that, I went through some of Albert Whitman’s recent titles–Down from the Mountain, The Black Crow Conspiracy, Biggie, and The Poisoned House. I enjoyed all of them!

What’s your favorite childhood book?

Brazilian Picture Books: My childhood