There was a time — although it seems like it’s becoming a tiny dot in the rearview mirror — in which one birthday child or the other received the birthday-appropriate book in the Kingfisher Treasury series of Stories for Five/Six/Seven/Eight Year Olds. Those beloved paperbacks reside on my office shelves now, but it was not so long ago that they were opened on the appropriate birthday to big smiles — there was something sort of milestone-like about receiving them. Near as I can tell from the interwebs, we’re only missing Stories for Four Year Olds—I just might have to complete our collection, because I’ve pretty well lost myself this morning while looking at these books again.
They are humble paperbacks — I don’t believe they were ever published as hardbacks, let alone with gilded pages and embossed covers. But the stories between the colorful covers are of that caliber, certainly. Chosen by Edward and Nancy Blishen, these stories are from the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Beverly Cleary, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Arthur Ransome, and Astrid Lindgren. Others, too — in addition to several folk tales retold by the compilers.
What I loved about these stories when we were reading them aloud was that they were from all over the world — many cultures and places represented. We often were looking at the globe after reading from these books. Some are traditional stories, some contemporary — an excellent mix, really. Short stories for kids — loads better than the dreary ones in grade-specific readers.
What my kids loved, curiously, was how the illustrations were tucked into the text. Every page has a clever black and white drawing — something drawn around the story’s title or running along the bottom of the page, a character sketch set in the paragraph indent, a crowd scene spanning the spread between the top and bottom paragraphs on both pages, a border of leaves or animals — very detailed, even if small. You don’t see illustration placement like these much. The books have a unique feel because of them.
The illustrators for each book are different, but all are wonderful, and because everything is printed simply in black and white and creatively spaced on the pages the books look like they go together. Some of the drawings are sweet, cute — some you can imagine as fine art. Which is what makes me wish these had been produced in a larger hard-back version with color plates, etc.
But the fact is, the paperback trim size made it easy to slip these in my purse, tuck in the glove compartment, pack for the plane ride, etc. A lot of reading happened on the fly during those early elementary years — these books were some of the easiest to carry around and pull out at the doctor’s office, the sibling’s game, and the bus stop.
I thought about putting them out in our little free library in the front yard, but I’ve decided to keep them on my shelf. Maybe tuck one in my purse for when I’m sitting outside the high school waiting for my girl, or reading outside the dressing room while she tries on clothes. The days are flying by — I’m glad I have books to remember the sweet earlier days, too.
Perhaps I’ll buy another set to share in the library…..