What the Dormouse Said: Wit and Wisdom from Children’s Books, Part 1

I started eating books at a very young age. In one of my earliest memories, I’m sitting on the kitchen floor gnawing on a copy of Little Bear’s Visit. I coerced my parents into reading it aloud to me so many times that I had it memorized verbatim, but even that didn’t satisfy me. So I ate it. I did that with a lot of books. My parents probably paid some exorbitant library fines for trying to return books with bites taken out of them.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone. I recently discovered a quote from Maurice Sendak in which he describes a similar phenomenon:

“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

I saw them, I loved them, I ate them. That pretty much sums up my relationship to books until the point when I decided to become a Civilized Adult at age ten, with dubious success. Civilized Adult or not, I still get giddy around good children’s books. I’m firmly convinced that they have just as much to say to adults as they do to kids, if only we’d sit down and listen.

Even though my book-eating days are (mostly) behind me, I was sorely tempted to take a bite out of Amy Gash’s What the Dormouse Said: Lessons for Grown-ups from Children’s Books, a compilation of quotes drawn from both classic and lesser-known kid’s books. The book is organized into helpful sections like “Goodness” and “Eating Habits” so you can have a quote handy for every occasion. We’ll post a smattering of our favorite quotations throughout November and December, but there are hundreds more in the book. I strongly suggest that you go out and buy your own copy. I’d let you borrow mine, but there are teethmarks in it.

— Jordan Castelloe, Blog Intern


Without further ado, here’s the first batch of quotes from What the Dormouse Said:

“”Real isn’t how you’re made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Sometimes.” For he was always truthful. “When you’re real you don’t mind being hurt.””

The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams, 1922



“All the ingenious men, and all the scientific men, and all the fanciful men in the world… could never invent, if all their wits were boiled into one, anything so curious, and so ridiculous, as a lobster.”

The Water-Babies, Charles Kingsley, 1863





“I put a large cabbage leaf on my head when I have a headache. It makes a very good hat.”

Eloise, Kay Thompson, 1955






“The night wind with the big dark curves of the night sky in it, the night wind gets inside of me and understands all my secrets.”

— “The White Horse Girl and the Blue Wind Boy.” Rootabaga Stories, Carl Sandburg, 1922






“My father is always talking about how a dog can be very educational for a boy. This is one reason I got a cat.”

It’s Like This, Cat, Emily Neville, 1963







4 Comments On This Post:

November 7, 2011
12:57 pm
Margie Hunter says...

Your parents probably told the librarians it was the dog who bit the books. I know I will now raise an eyebrow at the library when I hear that excuse, wondering what the true story might be.

Several years ago, my sister received a thank you note from our cousins for a boardbook she gave as a christening gift. It said that their son loves the book and eats it every night.

November 28, 2011
9:12 am
What the Doormouse Said: Wit and Wisdom from Children’s Books, Part II | Algonquin Books Blog says...

[…] a hungry tiger”) to profound ruminations. For the first installment in this series, click here.     “If you cannot be satisfied with what you have, you must learn […]

December 22, 2011
10:42 am
What the Dormouse Said: Wit and Wisdom from Childrens’ Books, Part 3 | Algonquin Books Blog says...

[…] every occasion. We’ve posted a handful of our favorite quotes over the past month–see Part 1 and Part 2.   “So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know […]

February 27, 2012
10:32 am
What the Dormouse Said: Wit and Wisdom from Children’s Books, Part 4 | Algonquin Books Blog says...

[…] for Grown-Ups From Children’s Books. If you missed our earlier posts on this gem, check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. My aunt is a Getty Images artist who runs a well-read blog where she writes […]

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