The Tall Book of Make Believe
One of my favorite childhood books was a hand me down from my mom titled the 'Tall Book of Make Believe'. The inscription on the front page says "Greetings from Santa Claus 1951." My guess is she wrote her name on the cover on that very Christmas day. The letter 'e's are rendered backwards in her six year old hand. She gave me the book very early on, and even back then I knew it was something special. The worn corners of the cardboard cover and taped up back gave it the patina of love and I always kept it in a place of importance by my bed. When she died it was one of the first things I took from the house.
The text, mainly poetry, was a bit archaic even in 1955 standards with lines like "Their wings were blue and they sang 'Tilly-hoo!' Till away they flew." There are poems by well known authors like Robert Lewis Stevenson and Carl Sandberg as well as authors you've probably never heard of like Midred Plew Meigs, but the reason I loved the book (and the reason my mom loved it) were the illustrations by Garth Williams. You might know Williams work from the classic editions Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little but these illustrations are dreamier and occasionally scarier than anything you would find in those other books. Here the man in the moon looks like a sorcerer pulling clouds through the sky, rogue shadows follow wary bunnies through the fields, bad elephants are forced to eat coals, and teddy bears come to life to make mischief just as we fall to sleep—flashlight-under-the-cover reading at it's best. Today's children's books are too often filled with practical lessons about sharing, or diversity, or going to the potty. Give me a tale of an uninvited lion who lives under the table and just might want to eat you any day.