The very, very first story I remember my parents reading to me was called The Very Best Home For Me. It was one of those Little Golden Books. Do you remember those? They still make them. But mine were the old ones, picked up by my parents at garage sales or passed down to us by my grandparents. My parents read it to me so much, that I remember being able to recite the beginning of it when I was only about two years old. "Once upon a time, in a little house deep in the woods, there lived a lively family of animals."
The story went that there was a kitten, a puppy, a rabbit, a turtle, a squirrel, a bird, and a chick. They all lived in this house together, and at the beginning of the story they referred to themselves as a family. They all did chores around the house, and took turns cooking meals for the family. They got along really well and lived in perfect harmony, except for one issue. None of them liked the others' cooking! The cat would serve catnip tea and milk and bits of liver, the squirrel would serve nuts, the rabbit would serve healthy salads, the bird would serve birdseed and worms, etc. About 70% of the story was a long description of what each animal preferred to eat, and why none of the other animals enjoyed this meal. There was absolutely no compromising among these animals. They were determined to only cook and serve their one favorite food, and they were equally determined to not eat anything else.
So, if you were writing this story, what would you have happen in the rest of the story? If I were writing it, I think I would make it a story about how all of the animals learned to cook some different meals, and how they all agreed to try some different things, and how they all discovered some dishes that they all enjoyed. Like, for instance, pizza! Yeah, it doesn't sound like an extremely interesting story... but it is more of a nice, calming story to read to children. Maybe before dinner or something.
This is how the story actually goes on. The animals decide that this can't go on much longer, so they hold a family meeting, and decide that the only solution is for them all to go their separate ways. They spend about ten hours talking about what the perfect home for each of them would be. And then, the next day, they all leave. Well, except for the squirrel, who for some reason got to keep the little house deep in the woods. He quickly fills the entire house with nuts.
One by one, the animals find their new homes. As a kid, I used to love this part. I loved the descriptions of the homes and the foods. I would ask for this story to be read to me every day! The familiarity of the words and pictures was so comforting to me.
Eventually my mom sold most of our Little Golden Books at a garage sale. But one day I found a copy at Half Price Books, for only a few cents. I bought it for myself, out of nostalgia. All of the pages were just as I remembered them. I could almost hear my dad's voice reading.
But the weird thing was... it struck me that this isn't exactly the happiest story in the world. Although they each find the "very best home"... the dog and cat ending up as household pets for children, the chick ending up on a farm, and the other animals scattered throughout the wilderness... they never saw each other again. At least, not in the story. They couldn't really all go back to the little house for dinner, since Squirrel had packed it with nuts. That night each animal fell asleep at his or her own new home. Reading this as an adult, it left me feeling sad.
I mean, what was the moral of the story? Never live with people who are different from you? When you don't get along with family members, it is best to go your own separate ways? There is no reason to ever try new foods?
I know I'm reading way too much into it! This story was written in 1982, and stories were different back then. They were meant more to soothe children than to entertain them or cause them to ponder the ways of the world.
I still love it. I get a warm feeling in my heart whenever I pick it up. It's just interesting to think about, though.
Do you remember your favorite storybook from childhood? Are there any children's stories that you would write a different ending to, if you could?
This was kind of an odd post. I am feeling better from my cold, though, and I should be back to good as new by Monday.