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Book Nostalgia & My Twins

Several nights ago, my 8-year-old twins were fighting over aBig Nate book before bedtime. To distract Hines, the one who didn’t have the coveted book, I reached into an overflowing book basket filled mostly with books the boys had outgrown and began to sift through the contents. “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Remember this one? You used to love this book,” I said.  I remembered then that I tried that same tactic the night before with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. “Oh, I hate that book, Mom; It’s so annoying,” he’d said, in that voice that hints at what he’ll be like when he’s 16. I cringed. When my boys were 4, I bought a second copy of Don’t Let The Pigeon Ride the Bus because the first one was literally shredded from so much love and attention. Shep, the victor of the Big Nate book who was reading on his bed, interrupted my thoughts. 

“Hey Hines, Yo Mama’s so ugly, people dress up as her on Halloween.” 

They both laughed hysterically. I’d gotten used to Big Nate and his insensitive, yet 8-year-old-boy-pleasing, “Yo Mama Smackdowns” by now. 

I picked up Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, sat down on the corner of Hines’s bed and started to read it aloud. It really might be the most creative A to Z book on the market. To my surprise, Hines, who by this point was shooting baskets on the over-the-door hoop that’s responsible for the smattering of black basketball prints on the bedroom walls, said, “Mom, read louder, I can’t hear you.”

Ah-ha, I thought. My distraction tactic is working. 

“Well, get in bed,” I said. 

So, he did, and I continued reading until the last page, when the letter “A” double dares the other letters to climb the coconut tree again.

“Isn’t there a number book like this, too?” Hines asked. “Where is it?”

I dug into the basket again and found a tattered, water-stained Chicka Chicka 123. “Let’s read it mom,” he said and climbed into my lap.  While I was reading, he asked, “Now 0 is the one talking, right?” 

“That’s right,” I said, smiling because the fact that he recognized 0 as the narrator meant he was fully engaged.

 I finished the book, tucked him in and handed it to him. He was still reading it when I left the room. 

As I walked downstairs, I celebrated the fact that I’d stopped the Big Nate fight. I knew tomorrow was library day at school, and they’d probably both come back with newBig Nate books. But I was also so glad I’d hung on to so many of the books we used to read when they were younger. We spent so much time with a handful of them three, four and five years ago. Roadwork,Goodnight GoodnightConstruction Site, The Little Blue Truck. They’ve become part of our identity. They’re like the songs that remind you of your first boyfriend or your freshman year spring break. I’ll never forget those two little voices reciting Roadwork: “Load the dirt. Load the dirt. Scoop and swing and drop. Slam it down into the truck. Bump! Whump! Whop!” They couldn’t read yet, but they’d memorized every word due to the rhymes and predictable text. They did the same with Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. They’d chant the entire book, including the speech bubbles in the illustrations, like, “Hey! Pipe Down” or “Yawn,” and they’d get mad at my husband and me if we left out that dialogue. 

These books represent a moment or a period in time. They evoke an incredible nostalgia. It’s the same feeling I get when I rediscover a book my parents read to me when I was young. My memories of the book or them reading it to me aren’t always sharp, but something just clicks inside me, and I get this feeling that’s hard to pinpoint or define. It’s almost like déjà vu. Hines didn’t remember every word from the Chicka Chicka books, but he remembered the books (and Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus, despite the fact that he thinks he’s too cool for it these days). I hope both boys will carry those books and their other childhood favorites with them, even if the words are simply tucked away in their subconscious to be rediscovered years from now. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even feel sentimental about Big Nate and his Yo Mama jokes.  

Katie Porterfield