Tag Archives: my life in picture books

Five Winnie-the-Pooh Moments that I Refer to in Real Life

A special edition of My Life in Picture Books to celebrate (admittedly a few months late) the 90th anniversary of Winnie-the-Pooh’s introduction*!

Some classic children’s books aren’t necessarily uplifting to read, like Mary Poppins (spoiler alert: in case you don’t know, the Disney version of the character is sugary-sweet by comparison to the real MP).  Some classic children’s books are problematic due to racism or sexism or imperialism, like…well, anything written by Rudyard Kipling.  Some classic children’s books are difficult to read aloud because of language or dialect issues, like The Wind in the Willows.  Some require a LOT of background information, so much so that to read them to a modern child is to give line-by-line commentary, such as the Little House series or the All of a Kind Family series.

And some classic children’s books are every bit as sweet and charming and relate-able as you remembered from your own childhood, like Winnie-the-Pooh.

Christopher Robin Milne and Edward Bear (aka Winnie-the-Pooh) c.1927

Here are a handful of vignettes from the classic books about the stuffed animals that live in a fictionalized version of Ashdown Forest that have become part of our personal Darmok in the Surton household:

1.  “Really as blue and as bracing.”  We use this phrase to mean “it was all it was cracked up to be” or “it was even more wonderful than I expected/remembered”.

Piglet wasn’t listening, he was so agog at the thought of seeing Christopher Robin’s blue braces again.  He had only seen them once before, when he was much younger, and, being a little over-excited by them, had had to go to bed half an hour earlier than usual; and he had always wondered since if they were really as blue and as bracing as he had thought them.

2.  “French word meaning bonhommy.”  An exclamatory phrase used to explain that a word or phrase is difficult to define or untranslatable, or is so obvious a cognate or etymology that it stands for itself.  Eeyore is perhaps the oldest inhabitant in the forest; he has the sarcastic and cynical attitude of a teenager at least, whereas the other characters behave like little kids.  When the other animals forget Eeyore’s birthday and he is trying to get Pooh to ask why he’s upset, he is in rare form.

“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing.  We can’t all, and some of us don’t.  That’s all there is to it.”

“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety.  Song-and-dance.  Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.  He thought for a long time, and then asked, “What mulberry bush is that?”

“Bon-hommy,” went on Eeyore gloomily.  “French word meaning bonhommy,” he explained.  “I’m not complaining, but There It Is.”

3.  “Aha!”  The other animals kidnap baby Roo and leave Piglet in his place.  Piglet tries desperately to carry out Rabbit’s plan (everyone would say aha! to Kanga so she understands that Roo has been kidnapped and will only be given back once she agrees to leave the forest forever).  We use this phrase, and its repetition, to indicate that a Cunning Plan has come to fruition and we want other people to notice.

“Aha!” said Piglet, as well as he could after his Terrifying Journey.  But it wasn’t a very good “Aha!” and Kanga didn’t seem to understand what it meant.

“Bath first,” said Kanga in a cheerful voice.

“Aha!” said Piglet again, looking round anxiously for the others.  But the others weren’t there.

4.  “I think the bees suspect something.”  From one of Pooh’s most famous escapades, in which he dresses up as a cloud and rides a balloon up into the sky next to a beehive in an attempt to steal some honey.  We use this phrase pretty much exactly as Pooh did– for indicating that someone has caught on.

After a little while, [Pooh] called down…

“I think the bees suspect something!”

“What sort of thing?”

“I don’t know.  But something tells me that they’re suspicious!”

“Perhaps they think that you’re after their honey.”

“It may be that.  You never can tell with bees.”

5.  “Spotted or Herbaceous Backson.”  A phrase used to stand in place of bullshitting.  Poor Owl, who can’t really read or write but is far too proud to admit it, is presented with a note from Christopher Robin, who is just learning to write (“Gon out, backson.  Bisy, backson.  C.R.”), and tries to pretend he can both read and understand it.

“It is quite clear what has happened, my dear Rabbit,” he said.  “Christopher Robin has gone out somewhere with Backson.  He and Backson are busy together.  Have you seen a Backson anywhere about in the Forest lately?”

“I don’t know,” said Rabbit.  “That’s what I came to ask you.  What are they like?”

“Well,” said Owl, “the Spotted or Herbaceous Backson is just a–”

“At least,” he said, “it’s really more of a–”

“Of course,”  he said, “it depends on the–”

“Well,” said Owl, “the fact is,” he said, “I don’t know what they’re like,” said Owl frankly.

Many happy returns, silly old bear!

*While A A Milne wrote several stories and poems about childhood and his young son and even Edward Bear in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the first story about Winnie-the-Pooh was published in the Christmas Eve edition of a newspaper in 1925.

Catchweed Bedstraw

flowers and tall grasses in my yard

Since we moved home to Oregon, I’ve been brushing up on my plant ID.

Our backyard in Hillsboro, in a late-90s HOA-administered cookie cutter neighborhood, was pretty boring:  Grass, some broadleaf plantain, more grass, dandelion, grass, moss, Russian thistle, grass.

But here?  Here it’s chaos.  There are things I still haven’t identified.  Things that were deliberately planted here by some previous tenants unknown, invasive foreign specimens, wild native plants I’ve never seen before.

Things with names that the smalls can’t render and I revel in, like catchweed bedstraw, Siberian bugloss, red dead nettle, snow-in-summer.

Things I was ecstatic to discover, like yarrow and violet, oxalis and lemon balm.

Things that are good to eat, like miner’s lettuce and dandelion and dwarf black cherry.

Things that make good pollinator habitat, like butterfly bush, white clover, black medic.

Things that the chickens are welcome to destroy, like English ivy and Himalayan blackberry.

Things that are useful to my apothecary cabinet, like pineapple weed, broad-leaf plantain, Oregon manroot, and wild madder.

Things that perfume the evenings and are a balm to my soul, like lilac and rose.

When I was a small child, we had a picture book called Grindle Lamfoon and the Procurnious Fleekers.

If you know it, you already know why I brought it up– looking at a backyard full of wild-growing, escaped and never-tamed possibilities reminds me of the moon and its tune.

If you don’t know it, it’s basically a hippie allegory from the first back-to-the-earth movement: the protagonist can’t afford a fancy storebought costume for the big party, and while he’s moping about this, the moon sings him a song about the beauty of wildflowers and the DIY ethos, and he is so inspired that he makes his own fancy costume for the party, staying up all the night to do it, thus starting a DIY revolution in his community and making a stand for individualism and creativity.

“These things from the woods
are much greater by far
than expensive made costumes
and Fleeker-made cars.”

Grindle Lamfoon and the Procurnious Fleekers

red poppy and various grasses in my chaotic yard

So go on out there and look around this week, people.  See what there is.


La vie en J800


When you have small children, picture books can be the bane of your existence.

And I don’t just mean the “No, MUST you read it AGAIN!” kind of bane.

I mean the oh crap, having kids has completely killed my brain, these children have taken over my life, why can’t we ever have nice things, MAKE IT STOP kind of bane.

I have no fewer than eight picture books committed perfectly to memory.  I can, and have, recited a work by Mem Fox at my cranky toddlers in the dark, on a road trip, in a desperate attempt to convince them that really, it was okay to fall asleep in the car rather than continue to make everyone miserable.

With not-twins straddling the ages of 3 and 4, illustrated books about kindly bunnies and space-exploring robots define the mythos from which I draw daily metaphor.  At first, that doesn’t sound so bad, because all the English teachers I have ever known had this soft spot for a clever comparison of Shakespeare and Seuss, but it’s more than that.

I have quoted a book about a talking hedgehog while in bed with my partner.

And if you have small children, I bet you can understand how that might have happened.

So, in honor of how completely picture books have subsumed my life, I present the first installment of what I hope will become a regular feature:

My Life in Five Picture Books

IMG_2060Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells

There is no surer method of engendering chaos in our house right now than using the word “Wait.”  I was really hoping this was a threenager problem, but Númenor is 4.5 and it’s not getting any better.  Send chocolate.

IMG_2064ishby Peter H. Reynolds

Númenor is a budding perfectionist– and that means he’s ALWAYS miserable about his work and how it has fallen short of his inspiration.  It breaks my heart, especially when he is excited working and then he stops to look at his progress and he just melts.

IMG_2072Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue by Maurice Sendak

So, when you have little kids, they spend a lot of time justifying their actions to you in ways that simply do not compute.  You say “Those aren’t for throwing, let’s get out the soft toys to throw.” and they say “I was just throwin’ it at the window!” and you say “Yes, that’s the problem, the window is glass and glass is fragile.” and they say “I was just thowin’ it gen-ta-lee to not break the window!”…and then, dear reader, you might be tempted to say something like “I don’t care how gently you throw it, those are not okay to throw.”  If you make this miscalculation, your 3-year-old may well latch onto that little phrase and come to believe that “I don’t care” = “screw you and your way of doing things”.  And then you will hear your darling child respond to you saying “come here” by screaming “I DON’T CAY-YUR!”  Send a lion.

IMG_2063Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

If you know one thing about the Gorge, you know that it’s windy here.  If you know two things, you know why this book made the list.  It’s August and my back yard is pretty much just one huge dirt bath for chickens and children alike.  The smalls came in from the yard yesterday and it was like the scene from the Disney version of Mary Poppins where Michael almost gets past Mr. Banks because he’s so caked with soot his own father doesn’t recognize him– they had little circles of basically them-colored skin around their eyes, but everything else was alien terrain.  We had to drain the water and run a new bath TWICE before the description was ameliorated to “dirty”.

IMG_2066Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse

Three mornings out of five this summer I have been awakened by two enthusiastic little humans jumping on my bed while insisting that they are, contrary to all appearances, baby dragons.  At first, I responded to this in a sane way by saying “Okay, but please be gentle, because only gentle baby dragons are allowed in my house!” which inevitably made the situation worse.  And then, this week, I hit upon “If you are baby dragons, I am your mommy dragon!  I am big and fierce, but I will be gentle to you because you are my babies.”  DING!  Winner!

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