I grew up in a book house.
Years ago, my Dad’s family owned Brainard Books in Crystal Lake and Elgin, IL. My Mom, an English teacher, met my Dad when she went in to buy a book.
My Dad, the reader, has a particular passion for nonfiction and science fiction and poetry and well, “everything. I’m interested in everything.” He added, “there’s nothing like a good essay.”
In the book house of my childhood there were shelves in the living room, the “computer room,” our bedrooms, the kitchen…
Most nights my brother and I “flopped” in my parents’ bed while my Dad read us chapters from Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.
When we were very young, my Dad read us picture books.
Nobody reads a picture book like my Dad.
There is his trademark high-pitched falsetto voice that finds a character in every book. The wide-mouthed, eye-popping jaw draw drop and gasp when something important happens. The crescendos. The decrescendos. The wild hand gestures. The taps on shoulders or knees. There is love, for the the book and the kid in his lap.
From the day she was born I have been waiting for my daughter to have the Dooly and the Snortsoot by Jack Kent (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972) Experience with my Dad.
It was everything I had hoped it would be.
My Dad crossed his legs, rubbed his feet together, cleared his throat. My daughter snuggled into his lap.
“There was once a family of giants. The father giant was taller than a two-story building. The mother giant was almost that tall. And they had a son, named Dooley, who wasn’t any bigger than [long pause, prep high-pitched falsetto voice and shoulder-tapping finger and then finish reading the line…] you.”
“Me?” my daughter responded, amazed.
Dooly eats his vegetables to no avail. “‘I’ll always be little!’ said Dooly, and he started to cry.”
“‘Little or big, you’re still a giant’ Father reminded him…”
“One of the things that giants do is say, ‘FEE FI FO FUM!’ at people and scare them half out of their wits…So one day Dooly went into the village to scare somebody.”
But when he tried to scare Treena, she giggled…
And then all of the village children played FEE FI FO FUM, “And Dooly had to admit that most of them did it better than he could.”
“One day their play was interrupted by an awful snarling and snorting…From around the corner came the Terrbile Snarly Snortsnoot, who eats little children for lunch!” (GASP!)
When Dooly saw the Snortsnoot sprinkling salt on Treena he decided it was time to be a giant, even if he was small.
He stomped on the monster’s tail. And then, when he chanted, “FEE FI FO FUM!” “…something remarkable happened. Dooly had grown a foot taller.”
And he kept growing, with every FEE FI FO FUM, until he was giant-sized and far too big for the Snortsnoot to eat for lunch.
The Snorsnoot didn’t eat Dooly, but my daughter ate up every word.
I had sort of forgotten about the “eat little children for lunch” line…When I realized it was coming, I whispered from across the room, “Dad! Dad! “Don’t say E-A-T-S children. Say, S-C-A-R-E-S.”
As if I could censor my Dad.
He read Dooly and the Snortsnoot to my daughter exactly the way it should be read, and she gasped, and gestured (wildly), FEE FI FO FUMED and pointed to the incredible pictures in shades of yellow and red as if this were the best book she had ever been read.
It probably was.
“Read it again!” she yelled. “Read it again.”
We will. Again tomorrow, and for generations to come.
FEE FI FO FUM!