The Other Self-Help Section

The older I get, the less I know for sure. I’ve always prided myself on being a bookworm and looking to literature for all the answers, and the stacks of books at my house get pretty overwhelming sometimes. Being overwhelmed by my ever-growing reading list is a little counter-productive to my search for answers, so in recent years I’ve turned more and more to children’s books for their simple wisdom. Board books in particular are a favorite lately – you can gnaw on them as you read without doing too much damage to the book. How great is that?

19247840_1224358687692748_7503902380484070900_n
Grapes fill my heart with happiness, for real.

Monique Gray Smith’s My Heart Fills With Happiness is written from the perspective of a little girl going down the list of things that make her happy. Such as singing, dancing, and walking barefoot in the grass. Those things make me happy too, although my singing and dancing might not make those around me happy. The book invites the reader to dwell on the little joys in life, and the little joys amount to a lot of joy in the heart if you let them.

Keeping on the happiness theme, Ball by Mary Sullivan is a story about a day in the life of a dog whose greatest joy in life is chasing her ball. The book begins in a flurry of excited activity when her little human wakes up and plays ball with her while getting ready for school. When the little human leaves for school, our little dog is bereft. She spends a lot of time trying to play ball with the laundry basket, the cat, and the baby human. When she naps, she even dreams about playing ball. Now, you may wonder why this dog doesn’t get another hobby, perhaps one like writing, which is best done in the dark abyss of solitude. I wonder why too. That’s not the point – I can’t solve her problems for her. Anyway, eventually the little human gets home and, oh my gosh, so much joy and excitement. The moral of the story is, joy is best when shared, or something like that.

 

ball
Ball‘s dedication. *sobs*

Moving on to my current mood, I’m Grumpy by Jennifer and Matthew Holm is a book I should really read every morning with my second cup of coffee. Grumpy Cloud is woken up early by chirping birds; he loses his hat in a gust of wind; he drops his ice cream; he gets rained on. (Wait, what?) And yet, after all of those small tragedies happen, he says, “I’m just grumpy because,” leading me to be believe that the real problem is not his circumstances but how he relates to him. When his happy friend Sunny tries to cheer him up, he finally explodes in a torrent of rain and thunder, after which outburst no one wants to be around him. Is there anyone reading this who cannot identify with Grumpy Cloud? (Or Sunny Sun, for that matter?) The good news is, Grumpy Cloud’s moral conscience starts to nagging him, and he makes amends to the beings that he hurt, gaining a little humility and an attitude of gratitude in the process. Grumpy Cloud occupies a special place in a shadowy corner of my heart.

19059827_1224358581026092_4524741145982268221_n
Of course, some board books are more terrifying than inspiring.

And because I tend to find the best wisdom and advice in the poetry section, here’s a nugget of humility from Judith Viorst’s collection What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About? :

“Trying”

I only cheated a tiny bit.

I never thought you’d notice it.

And besides, I wanted so badly to be the winner.

And it’s true that I told a little white lie

When I said that I hadn’t eaten the pie.

But I was starving, and it was forever till dinner.

This toy that I shouldn’t have taken but did

Belonged, I admit, to a whole other kid.

But I’m hoping you won’t think I’m a terrible sinner.

I know what I shouldn’t. I know what I should.

And I’m trying my very best to be good.

I’m trying my very best – but I’m still a beginner.

Picture books!

Occasionally, I have to meet new people. Even more occasionally (thank goodness), I will meet a new person who, upon learning that I work at a library, will say some version of, “I like books – if they have pictures in them!” They will then look at me expectantly with an expression of inane smugness, waiting for a guffaw at their clever joke.

They don’t get the guffaw.

I actually do like books with pictures in them. One of the perks of working at a library is getting to see all the new books as they arrive, and new children’s books are the most exciting.

One of my favorite new books that came to us recently is I Am NOT A Chair! by Ross Burach. The story is about a giraffe named Giraffe who, on his first day in the jungle, keeps being mistaken by the other animals for a chair! Giraffe is not, in fact, a chair, but you’ll have to read the book yourself to see if he ever finds a voice to assert his place in the world.

Giraffe is not a chair
Yeah, right.

Now, if you’re a little over-analytic like I am, you might suppose that the other animals don’t recognize Giraffe for the giraffe that he is because the jungle is not his natural habitat. Luckily a quick online catalog search will turn up plenty of non-fiction books about giraffes to satisfy your need to be right. Libraries to the rescue!

Giraffe is a book
Oh my gosh. Look at that face.

Moving on, we have Escargot by Dashka Slater, a story about an arrogant a charming French snail on a mission to eat the salad at the end of the book, provided the salad meets Escargot’s distinguished culinary expectations. The plot moves along at a snail’s pace and is punctuated by solicitations for compliments from the self-obsessed self-confident title gastropod, but the character development and expressive illustrations will make it worth your time to read. I won’t entirely spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say that Escargot’s gastronomic horizons are broadened.

Escargot salad
Hold the salt, please!

If Escargot whets your appetite, follow it up with one of the plentiful picture-laden cookbooks gracing our non-fiction shelves. Of particular interest might be Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking Patricia Wells’ Salad As A Meal, which has just enough salad recipes to make you feel healthy while flipping through its pages. (Feel free to skip straight to the bread chapter, though, and don’t forget about the perennially hungry public servants at your friendly local library when you’re handing out free samples!)

And here, because a book of poetry is really just the same as a book with pictures, I will end with a poem.

“It Was Early” by Mary Oliver

It was early,
which has always been my hour
to begin looking
at the world

and of course,
even in the darkness,
to begin
listening into it,

especially
under the pines
where the owl lives
and sometimes calls out

as I walk by,
as he did
on this morning.
So many gifts!

What do they mean?
In the marshes
where the pink light
was just arriving

the mink
with his bristle tail
was stalking
the soft-eared mice,

and in the pines
the cones were heavy,
each one
ordained to open.

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.

Little mink, let me watch you.
Little mice, run and run.
Dear pine cone, let me hold you
as you open.