When you ask people their all time favorite book, many will answer, “the Bible.” Others will name a memoir, or historical novel, or many other titles and genres for just as many reasons. For me it’s The Saggy Baggy Elephant, a Little Golden Book published in the ‘40s. That’s the story my then three- and one-half-year old son was reciting the day I discovered he had broken the code between letters and sounds and words, and pictures that were beautifully illustrated. He had a fantastic memory, too. He had heard the story so many times, first as a bedtime story, then as a read-a-long record that he memorized the words and the exact place to turn the page. Credit also to his aunts, cousins, and Miss Caroline and Miss Betty at his pre-school, and I cannot forget their helper, R.T. Sir Dog.
The reason The Saggy Baggy Elephant is my favorite book is that I raised my son as a single parent, and I was excruciatingly aware of the stereotypical statements made about single mothers raising Black boys. When I heard my son read The Saggy Baggy Elephant aloud, as we drove home, me from work and him from pre-school, my heart sang – and me tone-deaf. I knew that if he could read, he would have a chance to not only survive in this world, but he could also thrive. Sure, there were other lessons to learn, and I knew his “reading” was partly memory. But intuitively he understood the concept and broke the code. Everything else was practice.
I am grateful to my son for his assistance in helping to launch my writing career. My first book, Hasta Mañana, is loosely based on many work-related stories he has told me over the years, as he served our country. As I thank him for his service, I also thank The Saggy Baggy Elephant for its initial contribution to his stellar career.
“Read stories to children and you delight them for a short time.
Teach children to read and you equip them to enlighten themselves for a lifetime.”