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August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
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The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Officer-Buckle-062014

Officer Buckle and Gloria
Peggy Rathmann
Putnam

 

When you finish reading a book, do you think of someone you want to share it with?

I do. If I lend my copy, though, I find that it becomes a gift. The first time this happened was in 1966. The maintenance man for our apartment complex told me that he was a poet. I told him that I had just bought a wonderful book, The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself. He asked to borrow it, and I never saw him or the book again. Today on Amazon a hardcover copy costs $200.50, the paperback is $59.38, and for $2.55 I can get a used copy – maybe the maintenance man/poet’s.

I’ve decided the best way to share is to buy the book. For the past few years the book is Peggy Rathmann’s Officer Buckle and Gloria, which I now order five copies at a time. Because my husband is the senior director of religious guidance at Yeshiva University, we attend many celebrations for newborns: for a girl, a kiddush with drinks, food, and a short talk on the Sabbath; for a boy, a circumcision followed by a light meal and a talk.

When I give this book, the parents look at the gold Caldecott Medal on the front cover and smile, but look up quizzically – a book for a newborn? I tell them, “Read it now for yourselves; three years from now your little one will enjoy it.”

Kids love this book. The story of the police officer and the mischievous dog who accompanies him to schools for talks on safety is told without an extra word. The illustrations are hilarious: younger children appreciate their verve and catch the jokes in some of the details; older children laugh at Officer Buckle’s notes to himself and understand the subtext in the children’s letters to him. Four year-old twins figured out that one could play Buckle while the other could perform Gloria’s tricks as their mother read.

A mother whose three older boys got the book in honor of their new brother told me that the wonderful subversive element in the humor is what appeals to kids.

She’s right. That’s the pleasure in a better-known book, also written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann: Good Night, Gorilla. There are eighteen “Good Night”s and one “Zzzz” in this brilliant book. Little ones discover what is happening on the colorful pages: the gorilla lifts the zookeeper’s keys; the mouse takes one of the gorilla’s bananas and joins the adventure; the animals have stuffed toys in their cages (a small King Babar for the elephant); the portraits on the wall of the zookeeper’s house show him and his wife with the animals. A three-year-old notices after a few readings that in the final panel the banana has been eaten.

My son read Good Night, Gorilla to his children when they were young, and thinks it’s a parody of Goodnight Moon. He may be right. The gorilla on the front cover of Rathmann’s book signals to the reader to keep quiet – you’re in on the joke. Clement Hurd, who illustrated Margaret Weiss Brown’s classic, showed a mouse on several pages. But that mouse darts from place to place in “the great green room,” while Rathmann’s mouse enjoys the escapade in the freedom of the zoo.

Rathmann captures the bewilderment of young people’s lives. After a few readings, the adult sees the “got it” moment when the child realizes why Officer Buckle is airborne on the first page and where he gets ideas for his safety tips. Because her books provide more pleasure with each reading, and even more when the child reads on her own, they are the gift that keeps on giving.

About the Author: Dr. Rivkah Teitz Blau is a professor of English, an author, and a lecturer. She edited the volume on "Gender Relationships in Marriage and Out" for the Orthodox Forum.


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