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National Children’s Book Week 1

Author John Cech
Air Date 11/15/1999

National Children’s Book Week Transcript

National Children’s Book Week has been celebrated in November since 1919, thanks to the spirited leadership of Frederic Melcher, the editor of Publisher’s Weekly at the time, who argued that such an annual event was necessary because it “put the cause of children’s reading squarely before the whole community and, community by community, across the whole nation. For a great nation is a reading nation.” These are still fine and fiery words, eighty years later.

The theme of this year’s celebration is: “Plant a Seed . . . Read!” — an apt metaphor, because reading is one of the primary ways for rooting the imagination. Even books for very young children need to keep this in mind, instead of dismissing toddlers and preschoolers as a rather passive audience, only in need of a few brightly colored images to keep it occupied. The new crop of baby and toddler books are full of surprises. Not only have old standards like Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny been adapted for the very young, along with board book versions of the Curious George stories, but gifted artists like Rosemary Wells, in her Max and Ruby books, have been producing mini-masterpieces for years with her simple texts that celebrate the daily complexities of young childrens’ lives with deep sympathy and generous good humor.

This year, Ship Ahoy, by Peter Sis updates the premise of Harold and the Purple Crayon, with the wordless adventures of a boy who, while consigned to the couch while his mother is vacuuming, invents a fleet of sailing craft to take him on a journey of the imagination. Chuck Murphy’s clever Bow Wow and Black Cat, White Cat play with shapes and gestures using pop-up pages of dogs and cats to make the learning of these basic concepts a surprising game. But perhaps the most beguiling of them all is The Very Lonely Firefly, by Eric Carle — the same artist who did one of the posters for Book Week this year of a tulip lost in a tome. The firefly is in search of his own kind and after a series of adventures with other night lights and some pretty scary animals, he finally finds what he is looking for, and when you turn with a child to that last, ingenious page, with its tiny flickering lights, you’ll have helped to plant that seed of the imagination.

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