In the Forest (Marie Hall Ets, 1944)

This is an old book, and indeed, it feels old-fashioned. As far as I can tell it’s been out of print for over 20 years, but if you come across it at a used-book sale, snap it up.

It’s a simple story of a boy who goes for a walk in the forest. All the animals join him in a parade, and they have a party together with snacks and games. When they play hide-and-seek, all the animals hide, but before the boy can look for them his father comes to take him home. The illustrations are just black charcoal drawings, distinctive in their faded edges and simplicity—a perfect fit for the story.

The book is a wonderful example of a repeated structure—similar words are used each time the boy comes across a new animal, with clever variations for each one. The repetition and rhythm builds energy and anticipation in the story, but also provides a structure that young children hook into very easily, helping them understand and attend to the story and building their language skills. (One of my favorite examples of this kind of writing is Marjorie Flack’s Ask Mr. Bear, another very old book.)

But it’s the simplicity and familiarity of the book that’s most appealing. It makes you think of nursery rhymes and children’s games, and dreams you had when you were young. It feels like the private imaginary games you played by yourself in your backyard when you were six, that your parents knew nothing about—the same games children are still playing. This book is perfect response to all the modern computer-illustrated franchised children’s books: a reminder that children’s needs haven’t changed. I’ve yet to read this book to a child who didn’t lean forward in hushed attention.

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