Kids’ books still fun to read

Published 1:46 am Saturday, August 22, 2009

During a trip that took close to seven hours (counting several rest area stops, gas purchases and food breaks), my husband and I saw a lot of pine trees beside the interstate highways. They were pretty, but after miles and miles of passing vibrant greenery, even that gets boring.

As we rolled along, I noticed the clouds. Some were white and billowy, but now and then, dark clouds floated across the sky and doused us with showers. Some released large drops that made splats on the windshield. Others pounded it as if a floodgate was wide open.

It was after a shower that I saw it — a beautiful rainbow in all its splendor arched across the sky. The sight of it was worth the frustration of flipping windshield wipers on and off and straining to see when the heavy downpours came. I was almost as thrilled with its brief appearance as I was when I saw a rainbow as a child.

Thinking back on the rainbow during that trip reminded me of a book my husband bought at a library book sale many years ago. The cover was frayed along the edges. Someone had reinforced the binder with black tape. The title, “Rainbow in the Sky,” was printed in orange and angled in the shape of half a rainbow on the front and back covers.

Wonderful little line drawings decorated the inside cover and the first page. I recognized the cow jumping over the moon and the owl and the pussycat. The word, “discard,” scrawled across the page, obliterated other drawings.

The book had a 1935 copyright. Above a notation designating it as a wartime book was a drawing of an eagle with a book in its claws and a ribbon banner in its bill. The banner read: “Books are weapons in the war of ideas.”

One day recently, my husband came across the book that we had tucked among others on a shelf. “Look what I found,” he said. “This book is really a treasure.” I agreed.

Lewis Untermeyer, who collected and edited it, included a dedication stating it was a book for all happy children. The foreword title explained that some rhymes within were sensible and others were without reason.

Flipping through the pages, I found familiar verses my friends and I chanted while jumping rope. One was, “Pease-porridge hot, pease-porridge cold, pease-porridge in the pot, nine days old.” The faster we turned the rope, the faster we chanted it.

Some verses were weather predictions, like “Rainbow at night is the sailor’s delight” and “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.” Others pondered strange things: “Shoes have tongues but cannot talk; tables have legs but cannot walk.”

It’s not often I see a rainbow in the sky, but I can open “The Rainbow in the Sky.” As I browse its 463 pages, I become like one of those happy children for whom it was written.