While I can’t necessarily rank giving my 5-year-old son, Zachary, a bath as high on a favorites activities list, reading to him before he goes to sleep is by all means near the top of that chart. Not only is the Z-man an attentive listener and pretty good about sitting still while I read, but he uses his imagination with the pictures and encourages me to do so, too.
Like any child, Zach has his favorite books that have been read to him over and over again. Several Thomas the Tank Engine stories were in heavy rotation for a while, and still turn up every now and again the way a popular song from the year before gets an occasional spin on the radio. Anything involving Pixar’s “Cars” franchise has been read so often that Zach can recite most of the stories. And now, over the last couple of months, Spider-Man has worked his way into the mix, along with a few other superheroes.
As to what his absolute favorites are, however, that’s a pretty tough call. I’d certainly have to place “Curious George Visits a Toy Store” high among his most beloved books, and there is an alphabet book with corresponding large, colorful photographs of animals that has been a frequent companion at bedtime. (Of course, he loves to make many of the animal sounds, as well as tell me the name of the animal before it’s revealed on the next page).
Still, if I was absolutely pressed to select a No. 1, it would be “Day Out with Daddy” by Stephen Cook.
I’m almost sure that I picked this book out for him a couple of years ago at a bookstore in Medford, on my way back from the Minnesota Newspaper Association convention in the Cities. I’d never heard of the book or author before, but I wanted to get him something after being away from him for a couple of days and the title sure looked appropriate enough. And, after flipping through its pages quickly, it looked like it might be a hit.
The book tells the story of a little boy whose mom has to go away — on work business, it’s suggested — and be left alone for a special “day out with daddy.” To celebrate, he plays a horn next to dad’s bed at 4 a.m. to wake him up. They subsequently make the bed together by jumping up and down on the mattress, then head to the kitchen to have a breakfast consisting of cinnamon rolls, pop tarts, chocolate chip muffins, whipped cream, a cereal called “Super Sugar” and — for dad — a cup (“World’s Greatest Dada” cup) of coffee.
Other hilarity ensues. The boy runs out of the house in his underwear, with his father chasing after him and a neighbor on the other side of a fence simply smiling. They go to a petting zoo, where there are lots of wild animals “but daddy is the wildest.” (Zach loves it when I make an oinking noise for the pig and then add, “I stink.”) After going to a ballgame, the dad completely destroys his attempt to make dinner — there are some great pictures illustrating this debacle — and then a pizza gets delivered. In short, father and son proceed to trash the place, with dad falling asleep on the couch while junior watches a monster movie. Mom comes home at the end, and says so much fun appeared to be had that she’s never going away again.
The best thing about this book, though, is something that’s not in its pages. While we still laugh hysterically at many of the drawings and the story itself, Zachary will often ask me if we can have a “day out with daddy.” And that, of course, is extremely high on my list of favorite activities.