With a Baby on the Way by
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Prompted By Children's Books

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Make Way For Ducklings

Before my children were born, they each received the classic Boston tale, “Make Way For Ducklings” as a gift. The book is so popular that in May, there is a Ducking Parade, (children dress up as ducklings) and retrace part of the duckling’s route through Beacon Hill to the safety of the Public Garden. Years ago, local sculptor Nancy Schön crafted the image of the Mother Duck leading her ducklings into the Public Garden. It is a major tourist attraction (and people dress them in suitable gear in cold weather, if a Boston sports team wins a championship, etc). and for children to come sit on.

During the Women’s March

During Glastnost Barbara Bush presented a copy of the sculpture to Raisa Gorbacheva for the children of Russia. Both my children took their copies with them.

David and Anna are having a baby in December. When they visited in June, they took some of his favorite books, and I already bought some smaller editions in cardboard for them to have while the baby teeths. Reading is a wonderful way to bond with the baby, increase vocabulary, while away the time, and stimulate interest. Of course the Eric Carle books are delightful. We always loved “Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom”, both for the bright colors and the great rhythm of the words. We read that over and over again. David took those, so I only have a small sample, taken at the local book store (yes, we still have book stores on Martha’s Vineyard). Even “Curious George”, who had his own store in Harvard Square (alas, I think he lost his lease), was great fun. And of course, I loved Babar as a child and read his adventures to my own children. The Golden Books were always winners. David named his cat Kate because he had a Golden Book: Katie the Kitten (it is now in Vicki’s scrape book of photos that I put together when that beloved cat died). I just bought a Golden Book for my first grandchild at the grocery store the other day.

I discuss my love of reading and some of my favorite books in a long-ago story: Girl Stories. Though some of the books I read as a child might be considered “girl” stories, I read them to my own children too, who always enjoyed them. Each has a specific memory for me.

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Zeve read this aloud to us in class, doing different voices for each character (she had been a “radio” major at Michigan State). The characters came alive. She inspired me, a VERY shy little person, to also be interested in theater (that’s really what she was doing). She encouraged me in all sorts of ways, became a beloved mentor and we stayed in close touch until her death from cancer, aged 42, my senior year in high school. I have never seen the movie. I will not spoil the memory of her voice in my head, playing all the roles.

The Mary Poppins books were pure magic. I discovered volumes one and three on a shelf in my mother’s bedroom. The had been passed down from my cousin Lois, my oldest maternal cousin. I was in, perhaps 3rd or 4rd grade when I devoured them. By reading them, I discovered there were two more referenced in the front, which I purchased and also delighted in the tart, magical nanny. The Disney movies prettified her. She is not all that likable, but everything always works out and the adventures are fantastic.

Betsy-Tacy is a very old series of books. This one was a hand-me-down from my next-door neighbor, Lisbeth, seven years my senior and a role model for me. I found she had practiced her handwriting on an inside page when I looked through this book some years ago. I was able to find her in Berkeley, CA, took a copy of the page and got in touch. We’ve been in touch ever since. I loved the quaint story about a new girl in the neighborhood in the late 1800’s who becomes Betsy’s best friend and all the adventures they have. I read this to Jeffrey, who also found the book so interesting, that he noticed there were others in the series. We went to the Newton Library. There were LOTS more in the series. We read them all.

Of course Winnie-the-Pooh is a classic for all generations. I read it as a child, I read it to my children, but my favorite memory of it (beyond the Disney version of it) was at camp in 1966 with my favorite counselor, Grundy. We sort of thought Grundy looked like Pooh, but never mind that. She would read a chapter of the book to us at night after Taps (lights out), doing different voices for each character. Unlike Mrs. Zeve, Grundy was not a theater person, but she did have a talent for this and we were riveted (we were 13 years old at the time). So whenever I think about Pooh and his friends, I think about my dear Grundy (who we learned when I posted the story about her that she died recently).

G’Dee is entirely different. It is a Jewish-themed book about a goat (G’Dee evidently means goat in Hebrew). The author, Helen Fine, came to Detroit to promote her book and I had an autographed copy that I bought at the very first Jewish book fair, founded and run by my Aunt Pauline (Dad’s oldest sister). She was quite a woman! I must have been about 7 at the time. The book takes place in Brookline, MA (a place I did not know at the time) and each chapter is about a Jewish festival. The protagonists are young twins Deborah and David, who receive this goat as a gift from an uncle in Israel. They always get into mischief, but it all resolves well, and each chapter explains (in a delightful way) the meaning of that Jewish holiday. I enjoyed it, but gave my signed copy away when I grew up and left Detroit. When my children came along, I missed it. I now lived near Brookline, learned that Helen Fine wrote it from stories she told to her Sunday School class at Temple Israel, a place I had come to know well and I wanted another copy. The book was out of print. I went to the Brandeis Book Stall (they used to have a used book store in Brookline – the books were sold to benefit the Brandeis library) and I found a copy; we all delighted in these stories.

Now I have a grandchild on the way. I went on Amazon last week. There was one copy. I scooped it up, so the next generation can learn about Jewish customs in a fun way from a mischievous goat from Israel who comes to live with a family not far from where her grandparents reside. L’dor v dor…from generation to generation.

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    As always, Betsy, you have created a wonderfully “curated” — that word is overused these days, but it works here — compendium of stories of your memories, both as a child and a parent, along with typically ideal illustrations of them. Many of them also ring delightful bells with me — I hadn’t remembered the Betsy-Tacy books, but my daughters loved them — and some were entirely new — like Chicka-Chicka-Boom Boom and G’Dee.

    As to G’Dee, I was amused that you first learned of Brookline from reading it. But, more than that, I loved the fact that you found a copy and will be able to give it to your first grandchild. And what a perfect, evocative last sentence to your story!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. Reading “Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom” out loud is so much fun (pouncing on the BOOM BOOM – the kids loved that). Reading out loud is just a wonderful way to connect with the children, getting warm and snuggly with them before they drift off to sleep (hopefully). I can’t wait until I can hold a new little body close to me and read aloud again.

  2. Wonderful story Betsy about your childhood books, and the books you read to your kids and will read to your new grandchild!

    And how wonderful that you got that last copy of G’DEE – L’dor v dor!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    I haven’t been to Boston Common for a very long time, and didn’t know about the duckling statues—how wonderful! I’ll look for them whenever I return. Thanks also for goat G’dee—sounds worthy of passing on. I am struck by how many of us have kept beloved books passed down to us, and passed books on with hopes other children will enjoy them too.

  4. Marian says:

    Great story, Betsy, and it reveals a lot about your personal history with these books, and introduces me to many I didn’t even know about. I know you will enjoy reading to your grandchild!

  5. Suzy says:

    Betsy, I adore Make Way for Ducklings, although I don’t think I read it in my own childhood, but only to my children. It was one of the few books that I could read aloud over and over again without getting tired of it. And when we discovered the statues in the Boston Public Garden, we were thrilled. I have photos of my kids sitting on each and every one of the ducklings and also Mrs. Mallard.

    Love most of the other books you mention too, although I never heard of Betsy-Tacy or G’Dee. Great that you found a copy of G’Dee for your grandchild.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Coming from Detroit, I had never heard of Make Way for Ducklings until I got to Boston either, Suzy. And the statues weren’t in the Public Garden when I used to traipse by everyday while walking to work in the mid-’80s. They are a later, wonderful addition. It was only when I became pregnant with David and a copy was gifted at a baby shower that I first encountered the book. What a true delight! David actually went to nursery school with Nancy Schon’s grandson, so that was a fun connection (Nancy’s daughter is also an artist, mostly working in ceramics). The sculptures are so popular that now kids have to wait in line for a turn to sit on them! So glad your kids had that opportunity.

      If my neighbor hadn’t given me her copy of Betsy-Tacy, I never would have known about it, as it was published in 1940 and has probably been out of print for some time. I just checked the publishing date of G’Dee (I didn’t have access to either book when I wrote this story). It came out in 1958, which (despite what I wrote in the story, and I will have to correct that) means I would have just turned 7 when I got the book (I recall the book fair being around Chanukkah time). The copy I got through Amazon was published in 1971, so it did find an audience and stuck around in Jewish bookstores for awhile, but perhaps mostly in New England, or just for Reform Jews? I really don’t know. Because I knew about it as a child, I sought it out for my own children, and again now. Perhaps Sunday Schools ordered them for their students. There is a child’s writing in the front of the book I just got that shows her name and what grade she’s in.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I really enjoyed reading about the books you loved, some of which we shared and some that were new to me. Of course, my grandkids in Newton loved “Make Way for Ducklings” and we visited and they sat on the sculpture many times. May you enjoy many of these classics and some wonderful new children’s books with your grandchild soon!

  7. L’dor v’dor. So it is for children’s books, and so it is for our larger world of language, art and culture, isn’t it?
    Speaking of that store that used to “belong to” Curious George: I got myself (as a budding author of children’s books) invited to the home of H.A. and Margeret Rey back in the mid-1970s, just a few blocks from there. It was a unique experience, with the quiet and unassuming male illustrator and the forceful, loquacious, and very dominating female author. (She stated in his presence–without contradiction from him–that she authored every one of the books, although her name only appears on some of them.)

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Dale. Great art and culture (whether it be books or other aspects of learning and interest) get passed from generation to generation.

      How interesting that you met the Reys and that she was the dominant one. Great story!

  8. Oh, Betsy…with your love of books and your love of theater, even though we’ve never met, I know you well enough to easily imagine you reading out loud to your grandchild. You’re going to make the most wonderful grandmother…how I wish I could do it all over again! Crazy to think that either of my granddaughters could make me a great-grandmother in the blink of an eye. It’s not likely any time soon, but I would relish the opportunity to read out loud to another little sweetheart! So happy for you!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this comment, Barb. It is true that we haven’t met in person. Yet our kinship is real. I feel it. I have truly missed your presence on this site.

      Now I understand why you haven’t written your own pieces or commented on others and I hope your efforts to find your own story arc are rewarding. Years ago, when I took “The Chilmark Writer’s Workshop” on MV (some of this site was based on my discussion with the Zussmans about my experiences there; I took the workshop three times), my husband said, “You aren’t learning to write. You are doing therapy”. He missed the point. The workshop was subtitled, “Finding Your Voice” and yes, it was very much about finding what had been silenced – by a teacher, a parent, or our own instincts years earlier. You have shared so much with us; we value you so!

      Thank you for your good wishes. I appreciate them.

  9. I love “Make Way for Ducklings”! Thank you for reminding me about that wonderful story and all those ducklings named in alphabetical order. When I was a child, Ouack was my favorite name in the bunch. How wonderful, too, that your teacher inspired you to be a theater major. It’s every teacher’s dream to have a lasting effect on a student’s life. Thank you for a very comprehensive story, bringing to mind many of the old greats (Charlotte, Pooh, etc.). Kids these days aren’t getting the same experience with their iPads and online readings.

  10. Congratulations on your impending grandmotherhood!

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