Five little pumpkins
In last month’s newsletter, I linked to a lovely New York Times Book Review essay by Elisabeth Egan about the “enduring wisdom” of Goodnight Moon, written from the vantage point of someone who’s now many years past the stage of reading to her kids at bedtime but remembers those rituals vividly. In the essay, Egan mentions that she dropped her now-grown son at college the day before Goodnight Moon turned 75. Since I just sent my own now-grown son off to college this fall, Egan’s essay got me feeling a little nostalgic about the books my husband and I used to read over and over and over to our kids when they were littles.
So I raided the bookshelves in the playroom (yes, we still call it that) and rounded up some of the old Halloween-season family favorites:
You probably remember how Five Little Pumpkins runs:
Five little pumpkins
Sitting on a gate
The first one said,
“Oh, my, it’s getting late!”
The second one said,
“There are witches in the air!”
The third one said,
“But we don’t care!”
The fourth one said,
“Let’s run and run and run!”
The fifth one said,
“I’m ready for some fun!”
Ooooooo went the wind
And out went the light
And the five little pumpkins
Rolled out of sight.
Sure, it’s great for teaching kids how to count from one to five, but the real thrill comes from how the reader delivers “Ooooooo” and “out”—the hammier and spookier the better. It’s not existentially enigmatic like Goodnight Moon, but it casts its own sort of spell.
If my family’s Halloween stash of well-thumbed faves has any lasting wisdom to share, it’s this: Time spent reading out loud to kids—yours or other people’s—is some of the most worthwhile and most delightful time you will ever spend on this planet.
Being read to as a kid (thank you, Dad!) remains one of my happiest memories of childhood, and it set me on the path to becoming a writer as well as a lifelong reader. Reading to my own kids—from their newborn days well into their teenage years—has been one of the great and lasting joys of being a parent.
I could get sentimental thinking about it, but on this particular fall afternoon I’m just grateful to have had the chance—even if it meant I had to read Five Little Pumpkins and Bus to Booville and You Can’t Scare Me and, yes, Goodnight Moon over and over and over again until the cows came home (probably the cows from Click, Clack, Moo, another family classic). I’d read them all over again. All treat, no trick.
What I’ve been reading/watching/listening to:
—“The Return of the Freestanding Book Review!” by Ann Kjellberg. Anne and I worked together a long time ago at the New York Review of Books; she’s the founding editor of Book Post, a Substack magazine/newsletter that regularly delivers some of the smartest book commentary out there. This latest essay takes as its starting point the rebirth of the Washington Post Book World as a stand-alone print section—a development I’d never have predicted when I left Book World in 2005, during what Anne calls “the convulsive book review contraction” of the aughts. She uses Book World’s unexpected resurrection as the launching pad for a brilliant retrospective of the last 20+ years of professional book reviewing. Highly recommended.
—The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler. Powerful, grim, but hopeful too, with a distinctive first-person narrative voice that kept me reading through some pretty tough stuff. I had been meaning to read some of Butler’s work for a very long time. I don’t know why I waited so long. Maybe I had a sense that the dystopia she describes would feel uncomfortably close to our current reality.
—The Old Dark House (1932), directed by James Whale, with a wild ensemble cast that includes Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglass, Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton, and more. I’m not sure how to describe this movie except to say that I have never seen anything like it. The shadow-puppet scene alone (so eerie, so lovely) would have made it worth a watch, but the over-the-top performances by Karloff, Stuart, et al really carry the film.
—Being Funny in a Foreign Language, the new album from The 1975. I’ve loved this band for years now, in spite of some excesses and indulgences, and this Jack Antonoff-produced album reminded me why.
Ooooooo went the wind, and out went the light….
P.S. If you want a truly scary read, Mr. Bones has a recommendation for you.
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