The Daddy Diaries: I Shot Old Yeller

A South City father learns there's nothing quite like the joy of being lost in a good book.

I was pushing the stroller through Target when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the book that I would recognize anywhere. "Go, Dog. Go!" is the earliest book I remember from my childhood and, as I paused to flip through the pages of the Dr. Seuss classic, a flood of warm memories washed over me. They were all there—big dogs, little dogs, red dogs, and blue dogs; all racing towards a huge dog party at the top of a tree. I couldn't help but smile and let out a big laugh right there in the middle of the store.

I'm excited to introduce my son to the adventure of books. Until recently, Gregory would just attempt to chew the cover and drool all over the pages, but now he's beginning to get the concept of how a book works and can focus on the pictures as I read the words aloud. 

There's something magical about a good book—it sucks you in and transports you to another world. I like movies and watch my fair share of television, but when I'm looking at images on a screen, somehow I'm always aware that I'm in a theater or my living room. Not so with books.

Through reading, I've been shipwrecked on an island of cannibals with Robinson Crusoe; I've flown across the Atlantic Ocean on top of a giant peach; I've trudged through the eternal winter of Narnia and followed Bilbo Baggins under the Misty Mountains, through an enchanted forest, and into the very heart of the dragon's lair. I've solved mysteries with Encyclopedia Brown, trespassed onto the property of Boo Radley, sailed to "Where the Wild Things Are" and walked to "Where the Sidewalk Ends." And more than once I dared to "Choose My Own Adventure." Many afternoons I sat with Ferdinand the bull under the shade of a tree, but I've also run with the bulls in Pamplona, fought in the Hunger Games, floated down the Mississippi River with a runaway slave, seen the Northern Lights while riding on the back of a polar bear, swam with blue dolphins and pulled the trigger of the gun that shot Old Yeller.

Much more than entertainment, good books are the springboard of dreams and the window through which we see the potential of our humanity. I want Gregory to experience the joy of being lost in a good book—to feel the way it stimulates the imagination and provokes deeper thinking about life and stirs a passion of the heart. I'm convinced that a love of reading is the best teacher anyone can have and person who loves books is never bored. 

I remember certain teachers in grade school would read to us, and it was always my favorite part of the day. Usually sometime after lunch Ms. Mackewitz or Ms. Collins would perch themselves on their wooden stool, open a book to the place where they left off the day before and begin to read. Then I'd rest my head on my desk, close my eyes, and allow the story to take me far away.

Now that I'm older, I find it's more of a struggle to really enjoy a book. Good reading requires unhurried time and a quiet space, two things that our culture does not seem to encourage much. South San Francisco may be "The Industrial City" but sometimes it's also good to be blissfully wasteful and allow ourselves to take an hour (or even just ten minutes) out of the day to enjoy a good book.

I never want to lose the joy of reading. I'm almost done with The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead, which is a fantastic time-travel mystery where the key artifact is an ancient scroll made of human skin tattooed with cryptic symbols that reveal a cosmic treasure—how cool is that! My favorite author, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, has a new book coming out in June, and if you have never read his classic novel, "Shadow of the Wind," you need to stop what you are doing right now and go get it. Last year I made it through the terrifying vampire epic "The Passage" by Justin Cronin, and I'm apprehensively looking forward to the sequel, "The Twelve," which comes out this September. 

So, needless to say, I purchased "Go, Dog. Go!" and when we got home later that evening, I sat on the floor with my son and read to him the same book that my mother had read to me. The first of many adventures I hope to share. 

I'm curious to know if readers have any suggestions of good books for kids or to know what are your favorites from childhood? Also, what are you reading right now? Please post and let me know.

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Drew Himmelstein (Editor) March 13, 2012 at 08:24 PM
You are so right that "good books are the springboard of dreams." As much as I love reading now, I don't think I get lost in books the way I did as a child. My favorite books from childhood are the Anne of Green Gables series, Little Women, Narnia and the Madeleine L'Engle books. These days I read mostly fiction but jump around a fair bit. I just finished my first Doris Lessing novel, which was wonderful, and now I'm reading a new novel called "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes.
Drew Himmelstein (Editor) March 13, 2012 at 08:25 PM
PS. Gregory is so cute in this picture! It's like he doesn't know whether he should be looking at the book or the camera.
Monica March 13, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Touch and Feel books are the best. So are the "Who's Hiding Books". Look at the Dollar store for board books.They are nice because it helps the kids to learn words like dog, cat, chair, table, animal names. And, they are cheap so when Gregory starts to read/play with them more you wont care if they end up in the cat's water dish. I had bought my daughter the Sesame Street A - Z books and we had them for about 10 years. The is always the adventures of Captain Underpants. I waited till my son was in 2nd grade and we read them together. Have fun reading! One of the best ever books, Ferdnand the Bull and Bernstain bears, Things that go bump in the night..
Drew Himmelstein (Editor) March 13, 2012 at 11:38 PM
For younger kids, "Miss Rumphius" is beautiful. "Goodnight Moon" is a favorite, as well as "Make Way For Ducklings" and "Blueberries for Sal."
Heidi Beck March 14, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Hi, Mark -- maybe you won't have quite as much time for grown-up books for the next few years, but there are lots of fantastic kids' books out there. And some of the libraries have great children's programs. I don't know if Cathy still leads toddler story time in B'game, but she's terrific as is Ginny in Millbrae. I love Lois Ehlert's books for toddlers -- the illustrations are bold and colorful, and the words very simple -- fun to look at and talk about. My older son's favorite was "Eating the Alphabet" -- the produce manager at the grocery store got a real kick out of seeing this kid bouncing in the grocery cart seat and pointing out everything from "arugula" to "zucchini" (not that he was equally enthusiastic about eating them all) and my younger one really liked "Planting a Rainbow" and "Feathers for Lunch." Ehlert also did the illustrations for "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom," which is one of the most fun alphabet books to read out loud ever. "Goodnight Gorilla" is another good one -- the illustrations are fun to observe, and the story will tickle a toddler's funnybone.
Mark Cox March 14, 2012 at 03:48 AM
The SSF library has a reading group that meets once a month and in May their selection is "The Fifth Child" by Doris Lessing. Here's the link if you're interested: http://ca-southsanfrancisco.civicplus.com/DocumentView.aspx?DID=1421
Mark Cox March 14, 2012 at 03:51 AM
I actually have never read "Goodnight Moon" but it's been so popular that there are even some spoofs of it-- I saw one call "Goodnight iPad". "Ducklings" is a classic and I'll be sure to check out the others. Thanks!
Heidi Beck March 14, 2012 at 03:52 AM
And let's not forget Eric Carle for lovely children's books.
Mark Cox March 14, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Ferdinand the Bull is one of my absolute all-time favorites! Gregory will definitely be hearing that story many times. And I think he would really like the touch and feel books. Thanks, Monica!
Mark Cox March 14, 2012 at 04:00 AM
That's hilarious to think of a toddler being able to identify arugula! I don't think I could even do that. Thanks for all the great suggestions. I agree that the illustrations are really important and some of the picture books out there are absolutely stunning. That's good to know about the children's programs at other libraries too.
Heidi Beck March 14, 2012 at 04:00 AM
I also recently finished The Sense of an Ending, and today I finished Ellen Pollack's latest, Breaking and Entering. And I just picked up Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers (nonfiction). I love the Peninsula Library System! I only wish they had a better selection of literary fiction available for checkout on Kindle.
Drew Himmelstein (Editor) March 14, 2012 at 05:46 AM
@Mark: That's so cool! I didn't know about the reading group. But I've actually been specifically advised NOT to read "The Fifth Child" while pregnant because apparently it features a horrific pregnancy (though I made it through the latest Twilight movie just fine). The Lessing I just finished was "The Good Terrorist." I could be tempted by the book club's April pick, "Never Let Me Go."
Drew Himmelstein (Editor) March 14, 2012 at 05:50 AM
@Heidi: Wow, so cool we're reading (or just read) the same book. About halfway through (I know it's short), I really like it but don't really know where it's going. The Katherine Boo book looks good.
Heidi Beck March 14, 2012 at 06:43 AM
Mark -- it was indeed funny when Karl could point out the arugula; I barely knew what it was myself! And he'd ask the produce manager things like, "Where's the ugli fruit?" Of course, he'd think my son was asking about "ugly" fruit. It was a learning experience for all of us.
Heidi Beck March 14, 2012 at 06:50 AM
Speaking of spoofs of Goodnight Moon, I remember one called Goodnight Bush. There's also a book that's a wildly popular at baby showers lately -- a parody of children's bedtime books -- called Go the F--k to Sleep. Not my cup of tea, but some folks think it's hysterically funny.
Heidi Beck March 14, 2012 at 07:04 AM
Barnes' writing style reminded me a lot of Ian McEwan. Since you are about to finish a book with an unreliable narrator, you must continue on that theme and read Never Let Me Go. The book was recommended to me by a friend who loves books with unreliable narrators -- I really enjoyed it myself. I read about 60 pages of Behind the Beautiful Flowers tonight -- very interesting so far. The most recent nonfiction I read prior to this was Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy, about defectors from North Korea. I read it after reading that new novel, The Orphan Master's Son. There were things about North Korea I thought the author (Adam Johnson) was parodying -- I didn't realize until I read Demick's book that so much of what I thought was satire/parody was for real! Both books were great reads.
Jamie White April 22, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Love this Mark! A few months ago, we read this book to my 1-year-old son and that became his first phrase, "Go, dog, Go!" : )
Rosalinda Oropeza Randall April 27, 2012 at 11:08 PM
It brings tears to my eyes, just to think about it, "I Love You Forever"; a favorite. A fun book that introduces manners in a fun way is, "Perfect Pigs", M. Brown/S. Krensky.


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