For the past couple of weeks, Lucy and I have been reading James and the Giant Peach, one of my very favorite books. Danny and I lie down with her in the evening, on either side of her on her big bed, and read her books, back and forth, until her eyes start to flutter close. We kiss her on the cheeks and tip toe out the door toward our evening.
She has a great many favorite books these days. There was no guarantee that she would love James and the Giant Peach, especially when the big book of princess stories always sits next to the bed. To my great delight, Lucy has been loving the book.
I know that she also loves how much I love reading the book to her. This past weekend, we spent a couple of days at the ocean. Last-minute decision, cheap clean hotel with a kitchen, pack your bags, let’s go. Lu packed her own suitcase for the weekend, with her daddy’s help. At the hotel, as we were settling in, she ran up to me and said, “When I was packing, I thought, ‘My mama loves reading James and the Giant Peach to me. I’m going to surprise her and bring it!'” And with that, she showed me the book. Oh, this little one.
And as I read it to her, there is the memory of those magic words, the ache of James’ loneliness in that house on top of the hill, the squelch of the peach as it rolls over Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, and the bravery James gathers from being with the first and best friends of his life. I remember certain images from that book as though they were from my own childhood. And then there is the present moment, reading those words to Lucy, hearing as an adult how dark and hard this book is, and not flinching from reading her the hard parts, since they will elicit a stream of questions I can try to answer for her, questions about mean people and loneliness and karma and resilience. And there is also the imagining of what her memories will be of these words and how we shared them.
This morning, she came bounding into our room, singing as usual. Quickly, she realized we had not read James and the Giant Peach last night, since we were out so late. (Danny and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary last night with a magnificent meal at The Walrus and the Carpenter, which I’ll tell you about soon. Our dear friend Laurie and her daughter Iris watched Lucy, treating her to ice cream and a walk around Capitol Hill in the evening.) And we were just about to finish the book! So she snuggled into the pillows with me, as Danny went downstairs to make coffee and create breakfast with us in the space of a kitchen to himself. I read the last few pages to her. When we reached the part where James introduces his friends to the people of New York with little poems about each, Lucy made up little songs about each character.
And there were tears streaming down my face as I read the part about James’ loneliness now dissipated with the visits of hundreds of children every day. Lu smiled and studied the drawing of the peach pit as home in the middle of Central Park.
Afterwards, we talked and talked about the book. And then she said, “Mama, you have to take a picture of me with the book, so we’ll always remember.”
And so we will.
Chapter books exploded into our lives the year she turned 4. I’m so excited about many, many more this year that she is 5. Lucy and Danny and I have loved Charlotte’s Web, Little House on the Prairie, Winnie the Pooh, and the Ivy and Bean books together. I’d love to know the books you remember best from childhood, the ones you have been reading to your own children, or other’s people children, or the ones you hope to read to your children someday.