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Cori Brown: Nature books and snowy days go together

Mandatory reading on snowy days!
Mandatory reading on snowy days! (Cori Brown photo)

When you read this, those of you who care about the weather will know that Monday morning’s temperature will plunge like a dagger into the single digits. It will be the first time this season that the temperature will drop this low.

This calls for drastic action! Break out the long underwear, pile on the ear muffs, mittens, Abominable Snowman coats, and whatever else it takes to stay warm.

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I’ve got my outside plan of action covered as I shovel snow or take the dog for a walk, but just as important is what I do inside the house.

Battle lines are already drawn. Do I dive into a heap of blankets and binge on my favorite Netflix shows, or do I grab a mug of my favorite hot beverage and a stack of books?

It’s a big conundrum. If I follow my usual pattern of TV watching, the cocoon of blankets, coupled with the steady drone of voices from the squawk box, will have me napping in no time. Unless we’re getting 10 feet of snow, napping is not the most productive way to spend the middle of the day.

On the other hand, a sizable collection of books scattered throughout the house will not only keep me awake, but let me indulge in something I seldom have time for these days. The thought of actually reading a book, or maybe even a couple of books, is like eating a plate of brownies. How delicious!

What makes this choice even better is that I have been collecting vintage children’s books for over 35 years. Stored away in a dozen bookcases are hundreds of stories, some of which I don’t even remember buying.

My book collection has some familiar themes.

This bittersweet story celebrates friendship and growing old together.
This bittersweet story celebrates friendship and growing old together. (Cori Brown photo)

Nature books are near the top of the list. Nature books with gorgeous illustrations are even better. The sky’s the limit though, since my motto is to buy what I love.

Popup books always capture my attention as do unusual books, like a series I have from 1917 to the early 1920s called The Bubble Books. There are three 78 rpm records in each book along with classic nursery rhymes.

My neighbor Sam digitally recorded one song for me and I have to admit it was pretty awful. As bad as the singing is, it’s like a time capsule of life in those days, and this makes it fun.

Fast forward to today and there is something magical about holding and reading a beautifully illustrated book (e-readers don’t cut it for me when it comes to lush illustrations).

The first step is to comb through the nearly 600 children’s books I have to decide which ones to read first. It’s a tough decision because my library spans over 120 years.

At the same time, it’s an easy decision because I’ll start with one of my all-time favorites, “The Crows of Pearblossom” by Aldous Huxley, who also happened to write “Brave New World,” a futuristic book about gene manipulation and psychological control (not a favorite book of mine but a classic of modern-day writing).

Without giving away the ending, “The Crows of Pearblossom” (1967) centers around a sneaky snake and what the crows plan to do about his raids on their eggs. Huxley wrote the story for his granddaughter and it is an absolute delight.

Things are not quite what they seem in this tale of snake versus crows.
Things are not quite what they seem in this tale of snake versus crows. (Cori Brown photo)

Next in line is a book I haven’t read yet called “Mud Pies and Other Recipes” (1961), by Marjorie Winslow. It appears to be an outdoor cookbook for dolls (yes, dolls eat too, and love tasty meals). Intriguing recipes include Wood Chip Dip and Crabgrass Gumbo (how nice to know that crabgrass is good for something).

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Appropriate for this time of year, “Garden Adventures in Winter” (1936) is also on the list. Birds, mice, chickens and other critters figure prominently in this story with beautiful illustrations by Frances Beem.

Ludwig Bemelmans, well known author and illustrator of the Madeline series of books, wrote and illustrated other books, too, including “Parsley” (1953), a book about a stag deer. It’s been a long time since I read this book so it is in the pile, too. The simple, vivid illustrations reveal a story of life, death and friendship in the woods.

As the pile grows, I wonder if I am too ambitious. Several books included in the stack came from the Penguin Random House Book Fair held every year at Carroll Community College (mark your calendar for this year’s event, March 2).

I treat myself to one, sometimes two books every time I go, with a focus on illustrators new to me. You don’t have to be a child to enjoy the artwork found in books such as “If At First You Do Not See,” “Penguin Problems,” “Good Trick Walking Stick,” “The Bear Ate Your Sandwich,” “Over and Under the Snow,” “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night,” and “The Lion &The Mouse.”

What’s even better is that all of these books have great life lessons for everyone (adults included) in addition to the beautiful artwork.

Am I worried about the snow to come? Absolutely not!

I’ve got the best seat in the house with a big stack of books on one side, my buddy Navi on the other and hours of reading joy ahead of me. Let it snow!

Master outdoor cooking for dolls with this story.
Master outdoor cooking for dolls with this story. (Cori Brown photo)
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