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A Peek Into the Bookshelf and Back to Childhood

By Lori I. Diamond, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

A peek into the bookshelves of the average Harvard student can be very revealing.

It is in his Currier bookshelf, beside Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," that Government concentrator Paul S. Gutman '00 keeps "Alonzo Purr," a book about a ferryboat captain's cat. No, the sophomore government tutorial did not recently expand its reading list: like many of his peers, Gutman remains attached to a memorable book from his childhood.

The first encounter Gutman, a Crimson editor, remembers having with "Alonzo Purr" was when his parents bought it three years ago. Gutman says that at the time his parents were upset that he could not recall the numerous times they read the library book to him as a child. An effort to revive those memories of family reading sessions later drove them to purchase the book in an antique bookstore.

"Alonzo Purr" remained significant for Gutman throughout his high school career.

"The head mistress of my high school's sister school was named Liza Lee," Gutman said--the same name as an "Alonzo Purr" character, the ferryboat Liza Lee.

Unlike Gutman, for many students it's not the specific childhood books that are most memorable, but the actual experience of having been read to.

"The reason these books are important reduces down to the memory of having them read as a child," said graduate student Elizabeth T. Schreiber. "Any book I heard when I was young became invested with all sorts of emotional content later on."

Although most students are not as attached to a childhood book as Gutman is, many can name books that still have special significance for them. "Sleeping Beauty," "Puss `N Boots," "Goodnight Moon" and "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish" are among the many titles that stir memories in students.

However, packing crates and the back of the family station wagon can only hold so much come moving day, and for many Dr. Seuss may be sacrificed in favor of Multivariable Calculus.

Not so for Steven J. Chen '98-'99, who chose to bring along Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree" when he came to college rather than let the children's classic gather dust at home.

"It's a touching story about a tree that gives everything to a child, including shade and fruit," Chen said. "When the child becomes an old man all he has left is a stump. He says to the tree `I've taken everything from you.' The tree replies, `You can still use me.' The last thing the tree gives the weak old man is a seat to sit down in."

Chen still has "The Giving Tree" in a box in his room.

For Bridget A. Sinnott '01, the most memorable books from her formative years are those with dynamic characters she once idolized and forever admires.

"`The Pokey Little Puppy', a `Little Golden Book,' was about a puppy who gets into trouble like Peter Rabbit," she says. "It's who I wanted to be when I was little. I always wanted to be mischievous even though I was this perfect little angel."

Despite such strong ties to the literature of her youth, Sinott decided to leave "The Pokey Little Puppy" and other favorites at home where her three younger sisters may one day decide to flip through them.

But everyone can't abandon "The Little Prince" to less mature audiences. Available in both English and French versions, the book is a favorite among Harvard students. Dave A. Tortorella '00 keeps the thin volume in his dorm room, returning to the classic tale of life in a foreign universe whenever he pleases.

"I read it every once in a while," Tortorella said.

Harvard students not only rely on books brought from home for light study break entertainment. According to employees at several bookstores in the Square, many often stray from the textbook section, venture into children's books for purchases that demand less of their minds and their wallets.

Among Harvard Book Store's most popular children's books sold to college students are Chen's favorite, Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," Crockett Johnson's "Harold and the Purple Crayon" and A.A. Milne's "Winnie thePooh," according to bookstore employee Jill M.Stoddard.

Curious George and the children's section ofThe Coop are also venues frequented by Harvardstudents.

"Students come in to lounge around in thewinter," Coop employee Melanie S. Sharkley said.Sharkley called the children's section a "novelty"for students interested in more than just assignedreading.

According to Sharkley, Dr. Seuss's "Oh, ThePlaces You'll Go" is a top choice--especially asthe campus calendar approaches spring commencementseason.

While buying a favorite children's book as acommencement gift or reading children's booksduring a study break may provide low key readingfor some students, for others it's genuinehomework.

Stephanie P. Grossman '98, a Psychology andWomen's Studies concentrator, has received collegecredit for reading children's books. Grossmanrecently read Maurice Sendak's "Where the WildThings Are" for a child development class paperconcerning the history of children's literature.

"It's important that we look at what [booksare] out there and what's been successful in thepast to see how children develop," Grossman said.

"Everything becomes a little simpler inchildren's books. It's a refreshing way to look atthe world," she said

Curious George and the children's section ofThe Coop are also venues frequented by Harvardstudents.

"Students come in to lounge around in thewinter," Coop employee Melanie S. Sharkley said.Sharkley called the children's section a "novelty"for students interested in more than just assignedreading.

According to Sharkley, Dr. Seuss's "Oh, ThePlaces You'll Go" is a top choice--especially asthe campus calendar approaches spring commencementseason.

While buying a favorite children's book as acommencement gift or reading children's booksduring a study break may provide low key readingfor some students, for others it's genuinehomework.

Stephanie P. Grossman '98, a Psychology andWomen's Studies concentrator, has received collegecredit for reading children's books. Grossmanrecently read Maurice Sendak's "Where the WildThings Are" for a child development class paperconcerning the history of children's literature.

"It's important that we look at what [booksare] out there and what's been successful in thepast to see how children develop," Grossman said.

"Everything becomes a little simpler inchildren's books. It's a refreshing way to look atthe world," she said

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