There it was, staring at me from the middle of Noodle’s bookcase. I was prepping her room for a paint job and saw one of my favorite books as a child beckoning me from the sagging shelf. We Were Tired of Living in a House is an old book. The illustrations are black and white. The pages are yellowed from age. In fact, my copy isn’t the one I grew up with– my sister has that one. I had to buy mine from eBay after stalking it for months. Sure, there’s a newer version but the old one has all the charm.
It was a risk to show it to her; on one hand, I’d be thrilled if she liked it. On the other, how is this old book going to compare to the bright illustrations of The Daddy Book or the photos and humor in Knuffle Bunny? If she rejected it I might feel a bit rejected, too.
Ever daring, I placed it in her pile of books to read. When bedtime rolled around, I hesitantly asked, “how about this new book?”
She looked at me with her bright blue eyes, smiled, and tapped the cover three times. “This one!” she said. And, thank goodness, she meant it.
Like cracking open a treasure chest, we began to read.
“We were tired of living in a house.”
“So we packed a bag with sweaters and socks…”
and so begins the beautifully written and captivating story of four children who decide to live in a tree (until it gets too windy), in a cave (until they meet the bears) and a few other places children might dream of going. When I was young, I adored how they set up house in each spot, complete with a table set for tea or a pulley to pull up a pail or turrets and moats (in their sand castle). There was so much imagination on each page, as a child it inspired me to go outside and create my own dreams out of nothing. Stumps became thrones, branches were brooms, driftwood was a shipwrecked boat. Literally, there were no limits to what my friends and I imagined once we got started.
As we turned the pages, I pointed out the children in the book and said, “there’s Abby! And Jane! And Ben! And Jacob!” naming herself and her cousins on each page. You see,
twenty thirty years ago, those same illustrated children were my cousins, according to my dad. As Noodle and I read the story, they transformed right there on the page into the new generation– and somehow it held as much magic for Noodle as it did for me.
As her eyes made their way around each black and white page, they glowed.
We pointed out the frog (“who was a particular friend”), balloon, the tea party, the umbrella. With each page, something new to find and smile about. “Jacob” seemed to love digging in the sand, and “Ben” was dripping with water in the pond. Suddenly, the book was now about her adventures with her favorite people.
I wondered if her imagination was racing, as mine once did. If once her head hit the pillow, she’d dream about building a raft with her cousins and sailing across the sea.
As the story ended, it was her turn to choose two more books before bedtime. Without hesitation, “wup, wup, wup!” she softly tapped on the yellowing book cover. And for book three? You guessed it. Wordlessly she pointed to the same book and we read it a third time.
The day will come when she’ll want tutus and boas and heels and dresses to act out her dress-up dreams. But tonight? Tonight I’ll be thankful she’s still three, and that imagination can run free without constraint. She can be a pirate, or a train conductor, or a princess if that’s what she wants. Her costume trunk, when the time comes, will probably contain both an eye patch and a tiara. Maybe a construction hat. And for sure a safari hat.
But I never want her to forget she’s limited only as much as her dreams, and I want those dreams to be expansive and free.
Next time we read the story, I bet (by her decree) the oldest boy will be named Justin and the other girl, Olive. The names will change, but not the heart, and I can only pray one day she’ll be reading the same story to her little ones. What the children will be named is anyone’s guess, but regardless there’s no doubt in my mind that when the words roll off her tongue, she’ll be transported back in time to a warm and special place– her imagination. And I hope she’ll remember the warmth and comfort of the two of us, huddled over a book in our jammies, reading together with wonder and love.
As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of the book The Costume Trunk by Bob Fuller for review. Members are asked to write a post inspired by the book, not a traditional review. That’s my favorite kind of book club! 😉 You can read other members’ posts inspired by the same book on book club day, July 28, at From Left to Write.