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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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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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