Today, my sister and I are moving our mother into assisted living. She flew up a few days ago to stay with me while we waited for her things to be moved from southern California. My brother and his three kids are visiting from Oregon (not staying with me).

When I told my mother that I’d cleared out my garage to make room to store her extra things, she said, “Oh, I’ve got to clean out my garage. I’ve got so many boxes in there.”

We sold her house. An estate agent is selling what was left behind. There was very little in the garage. Twelve years ago, she cleared out the boxes. I got a stack of my high school newspapers.

In packing her things, I found a notebook she kept for a master’s thesis on children’s literature.

As a first grader, I read The Cat in the Hat and moved on to Buffalo Boy, Sandy and the Balloons, The Little Mermaid Who Could Not Sing, “true” books about pioneers, oceans, animal babies, deserts, cowboys, and freedom and a lot more. The only one I remember is Cat in the Hat — and possibly Buffalo Boy.

My sister, a second grader, read Bambi, Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Jungle Book, Black Beauty, Stuart Little, The Rachel Field Story Book and more. I remember all those vividly.

Our mother read us Black Beauty when we were too young to read to ourselves. We loved it. She thought it was sentimental slop. When she finished, we begged her to read it again. She did. Years later, I reread Black Beauty. It is sentimental slop.

About Joanne


  1. Ann in L.A. says:

    I think our then-3rd grader tried A Secret Garden. It was tough and she gave up on it. Nevertheless, I always am pushing older books. They are less filled with jargon, poor grammar, and snotty characters. They have broader vocabularies and more-complex sentence structure. The kids don’t usually take my suggestions, though.

  2. palisadesk says:

    Been there, done that where moving the parent into an assisted living situation is concerned. It’s a big stressor for the older person. We found with our mother (and aunt) that even though the residence offered many social and recreational opportunities, our family members were reluctant to participate and we had to barge in with a jolly here-we-go attitude and accompany Mom to the dining room, some regular activities, things like that until she made some new friends and established a new routine. Also, keeping contact with some of her old friends was very important. If they could not come and visit, we had to try to arrange outings. Keeping up old interests and relationships will be very important for your mom too I will venture to suggest.

    When we packed up our mother’s house to sell it, we found she had kept all kinds of school memorabilia from each of us. I found a little notebook marked “Book Reports” from second grade. There was a fulsome review of — Black Beauty! I think it may have been the first “long” book I ever read. The conclusion, in my left-handed reversal-strewn printing was “I love this book so much I read it 17 times.”

    Ouch. You’re right, it *is* sentimental slop. But at age 7 that did not bother me. The same notebook had my review of “Animal Farm” (I had found it in my high school sister’s room) of which, needless to say, I had not understood the political implications. I wrote that the ending didn’t make much sense. How could the animals not tell pigs from people?

    The Secret Garden was a hit in my fourth grade class. The teacher started reading it aloud before dismissal every day, and by the end of the week most of us had gone to the library and snagged a copy to read ahead in. I have found it an eternal favorite (as a read-aloud) with my own students, yes even in this jaded and cynical era, and even with its Yorkshire accents and idioms.