In the rural Colorado world in which I live there is no postal delivery. The post office is twelve miles away, and is in a building that houses a general store as well as a liquor store. (There is a picture of it in my new book Old Wolf.)
In one corner of the post office there is a floor-to-ceiling bookcase where people in the community leave and take books. (The public library is 17 miles beyond.) The books–for young and old—are constantly changing. A bin for picture books sits on the floor, I presume so the very young can look through them on their own. The last time I was there I spied a copy of The Story of Babar the Little Elephant, by Jean de Brunhoff.
The moment I saw it, the whole book flashed through my mind. Babar and his mother. The killing of his mother. The tears Babar sheds. How Babar runs off to the city and meets the very rich Old Lady … on and on and how, at the end, King Babar and Queen Celeste go off in a “gorgeous” yellow balloon on their honeymoon.
More than seventy years ago Babar was an important part of my life. Apparently, it still is. I find it extraordinary how vividly this book remains in my mind. Indeed, as I thought about the death of Babar’s mother—and the image of the little elephant crying—I felt a swell of emotion.
I write, for the most part, novels for young people, but it never ceases to amaze me how many picture books I remember. My mother was highly skilled at finding and bringing home the very best of 1940’s picture books. I truly remember many of them. I could, but won’t list them all. Too long a list.
I assume the picture book makers of today have the same impact on young kids now. What a great life-long gift they provide. All honor to them.
But don’t neglect The Story of Babar the Little Elephant, published in 1933. It is wonderful.