Sunday, January 27, 2008

Relax, Max

Lazy day

I was watching my cat sleep today and I was envious. Not of her ability to sleep for 16 hours a day, since I actually resent how much of my day is occupied by required sleeping but of her ability to relax so deeply. Not that she is always relaxed. At the moment she is doing furious battle, saving the world from a rubber band. But I envy those moments of spineless repose, where her only worry is whether dinner will arrive on time.

Ferocious Slayer of Rubber Bands

I’ve been hypnotized during a course on hypnosis and trust me, it is a very relaxed feeling but I doubt I looked that calm. I don’t think I’ve looked that relaxed when asleep since I was an infant and still believed that all was safe in my world. Cats have all the luck.
When my kids were infants, we read to them from a number of board books. Writing a good baby book is quite an art. It might appear easy to the uninformed. After all such a book is rarely more than 20-30 words in length. But that is the point. It has to be readable, not once but a hundred times, aloud. The pictures have to be bold and eye catching, but even more, the words have to have a certain seductive rhythm and tone, like great poetry, only catchier and more accessible. One classic of the genre, "Goodnight Moon", seems dull and lifeless until read aloud. Then the tone and rhythm catch the ear and lull the senses into a state of, see I had a point here, relaxation.
We had our favorite stories, like most families. There were the train books, the dinosaur stories, the bedtime stories. Some were funny, some sweet. Some just outright ridiculous. The queen of silliness has to be Sandra Boynton. Sandra started in the greeting card business I believe. But her board books captured my family’s attention. Our favorite was “But Not the Hippopatamus.” Quoth I:
A hog and a frog
Cavort in the bog.
But not the hippopotamus.
A cat and two rats
Are trying on hats.
But not the hippopotamus.

Doesn’t this remind you of middle school? The best reading of all was when a French family member read it with an exaggerated French accent. We nearly died laughing. I can’t reproduce it well in print but imagine “But not ze ippopotamoose,” and you get the idea.

But Not the Hippopotamus

Another favorite which I have to quote from memory since the book must be in a box somewhere is “Max’s Bedtime” by Rosemary Wells. Max loses his red rubber elephant right before bedtime. His older sister Ruby tries to comfort him with all his other stuffed animals. “ ‘Relax, Max,’ said Ruby. But Max could not relax.” The pictures are great and the story has a happy ending. Max finds his red rubber elephant and goes to sleep. If my child didn’t do as well, it wasn’t Rosemary’s fault.
I still say “Relax, Max” to my kids although I’m not sure they remember the source of the quote. I don’t know if they listen anymore but they did back then.
So we should all learn to relax from cats, and Ruby. After all, life is too short not to waste more of it.


Kathe said...

Hayley's favorite book was The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood. She loved it so much that we went through at least 3 or 4 copies, and she even had it memorized before the age of 2. It got to the point where, when putting her to bed at night, she and I would take turns reciting the dark. I ordered a copy of it from my favorite bookstore in town for a friend's daughter once. But when it came in, it was the Russian version. I didn't purchase that copy, but the bookstore decided to keep it anyway. I'm still tempted to buy it and put it away with Hayley's one copy that did survive. Cute photos of Dash!

Jud said...

Thanks for sharing. My daughter and I have some favorites, but we haven't read any of Boynton's. I enjoyed his turkey cartoons immensely. I must try to find some when next we visit the library. She like Shel Silverstein, too.

I also like the Carl the Dog stories by Alexandra Day, but for their lack of language. Usually the author sets up the story with a little text, and then the story moves along through a series of lovely watercolor images. These were great before my daughter was reading, because she could narrate the story. It was interesting to see what details changed or stayed the same with each telling.

Anonymous said...

I am teaching in a school. I teach middle to high school. I even now read kiddy fiction along with the serious one.

Arty? Not me!!

Shari said...

I've never read - But Not the Hippopatamus. My kids would love it. However, I do know about cats. My Friski was the laziest, most self-centered cat around. But, he was so good looking.

Andree said...

You need to take more cat photos. Max is gorgeous. You are good cat photographer.

Larry said...

I've always admired the way cats spend their days.-I've always had cats for pets.-

Josna said...

Max's Bedtime was one of our favorites, too. I love the illustration that accompanies "But Max could not relax," where he is lying on the bed as stiff as a plank! And we, too, still say, "Relax, Max".