THE WHALES, a picture book by Cynthia Rylant full of beautiful illustrations of whales, naturally, was the first book I was driven to hide. Now, I’m as fond of whales as the next person, and I’m fond of picture books. Fondness can dim though, when a two-year-old asks for a whale book to be read not just once or twice a day, but once or twice an hour. We had stacks of picture books in the house. It didn’t matter. They seemed to be invisible, so I admit it, I hid the chosen book for a few hours each day. For a child of two, out of sight was out of mind, and it meant I got a welcome respite to all whales, all the time.
The day did come when my son didn’t want me to read the book more than a few times. Joy reigned. I read him at least ten other picture books I had waiting. Wonderful, colorful, fabulous stories. I was happy. But for those of you with book-obsessed toddlers, I’m sure you can guess what came next. A different book, this one called OUR NEW KITTEN by Harriet Hanes, became the new must-read all the time. We ended up with three copies of that book. After the first was in tatters, from the necessary practice of turning pages to him carrying it around like a talisman to me hiding it in the hamper and under sofa cushions, I bought two more. One, I cut up, putting each page in a protective sleeve, and then punching holes in the cover and rebinding it with string. The other I put away, because if a book is so well-loved, it must not be forgotten.
My son is long past that age, and now carries around books so that he can sneak in a few pages of reading when he has time. I still buy picture books, especially around the holidays. They are supposedly just a quirk of mine, but I find when I’m reading them, others in the family migrate to sit next to me just to keep me company. No whale books though. I might have to resort to hiding them.