Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Growing up, my family was lucky enough to be able to spend part of each summer at our country house in the Catskills.  Although we always brought new books with us, we had a few books that remained at the country house during the year.  These were not "back-up" books for when we exhausted what we'd brought.  To the contrary - one of the joys of going to the country house was reading and rereading the "country house books" annually.  As I got older, they included Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk, the story of a Jewish girl's coming of age in the 1930s and Belles on Their Toes  (the sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen, which, strangely, I don't think we had at the country house), both by Frank B. Gilbreth and his sister Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.  In them, the sibling authors tell the story of their family which consisted of 12 children and their parents, the efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.  (I guess if you're going to have a dozen kids, you might as well be an efficiency expert!)  These are still some of my favorite books.

Now that I have brought my own kids to the country house, I have rediscovered the picture books that my mom has kept there these past 30+ years.  When a friend's recent Facebook post requesting children's book recommendations garnered several votes for The Saggy Baggy Elephant (A Little Golden Book), I thought, oh, a country house book!  While this sweet story has a moral (looks don't matter, your family will love you no matter what), the most fun part of reading it is doing Sookie the elephant's happy dance with him: one, two three, kick! one two three, kick! 

Maybe my mom had a thing for elephants, because another favorite country house book is The Circus Baby by Maud Fuller Petersham.  A mother elephant admires the way the clown family eats with utensils and wants to raise her baby to be similarly civilized.  Chaos ensues as the baby elephant attempts to eat with a spoon and mother elephant learns to accept the limitations (if that's what they are) of elephanthood and not push her baby to be what he is not.  The illustrations are charming and the book is not pedantic in the least.

Finally, If I Had a Lion by Liesel Moak Skorpen, tells of a little girl's plan for a lion to become her best friend and companion.  They would take care of each other when they were sick, play with each other and generally keep each other company.  Again, the illustrations are delightful and despite the fact that the little girl must be lonely, the book is not sad.

Of course, I am writing these reviews from memory because the books are not here - they are at the country house.  It would be a violation of an unwritten family rule to purchase them - or even read them - during the rest of the year.  So here's to next summer, when I will read all of these again (and again, and again, and again.)


  1. I love this post. I have done this with my kids too - picked out books that I read as a kid and read them aloud as a family. It's fun to see them again, hear them when you've got such a new frame of reference isn't it? Good post!

  2. Oh, what a lovely idea. To have books in a special place, bound up with that special place. And yes, then the delight of seeing them again and rereading them, no doubt in favourite places with memories of previous years.

  3. And the fun thing is that your own children, going to the same country house, will remember the same books as country house books. By the time they are parents these books might be long out of print.

  4. And don't forget Skating Shoes and Movie Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, even though (oddly) all the other Shoes books were regular year books...

  5. @Playing by the book: That's it! And the association enhances both the place AND the books.

  6. My favorite "country" book is Alli the Alligator. He has a bad toothache and has to go to the dentist, all by himself, on the bus. He is horrified when a lady in the dentist's waiting room is holding an alligator purse. I do not know the author but will find out when it's country time again