The first book I ever read on my own was Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. I remember being so proud that I carried it around the house offering to perform it for anyone who would listen. I also recall not being completely sure if I was truly reading or if I just had the words memorized (I was a weird, introspective little kid). Nevertheless, from that moment on I could always seek out a quiet place away from my ever-growing legion of siblings and disappear into the welcome solitude of a book.
Before then, I had to get my Mom to read to me.
This isn’t meant to imply that the pre-literacy dark ages were completely without their charm, of course. I did have a favorite story, which I would beg to hear any time I got the chance. The Monster at the End of This Book (starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover) to this day remains one of my most cherished childhood memories, and a recent eBay purchase confirms that it ABSOLUTELY stands the test of time. The whole thing takes like two minutes to read, and consists of Grover seeing the eponymous monster mentioned on the title page, and spending each subsequent page trying to prevent you from turning to the next by constructing a series of increasingly sturdy barriers. And then laying, exasperated, in the rubble of each one after you manage to turn it anyway. I don’t want to give anything away here (SPOILER ALERT: it’s Grover! Grover’s the monster!), but eventually it’s all revealed as a misunderstanding and Grover walks away from the ordeal pretty embarrassed. My Mom would do the whole thing in character (and you can say what you want about my mother, but the woman pulled off a respectable Grover). She would let me turn the pages, too, and I would laugh and laugh as I managed to burst through nailed-up boards and brick walls.
It was one of those Little Golden Books with the gold foil on the binding, and I remember having the vague impression, even in the early seventies, that the Sesame Street connection made the book somehow superior to the ones with the crappy unlicensed characters like the Poky Little Puppy and Saggy Baggy Elephant.
Apparently at some point they knocked out a sequel that throws Elmo into the mix, as well as a re-jiggered popup version, but I can’t personally vouch for either of these. And I’m not saying this is some kind of literary masterpiece (seriously, it’s like ten pages long), but if part of your duties include reading to a small child, you could do a lot worse than The Monster at the End of This Book. Frankly, if the kid takes away anything resembling the joyous, magical warmth I still carry around in the deepest, most secretive corners of my heart for this thing, you’ve done your job well.
There’s a fair chance that, three and a half decades later, they’ll be charitable in their assessment of your muppet impersonation skills, too.