The Same Old Story Book
By Stuart Baum
This time, Father said he wanted to read
the same old story book. The three children (five-year old Reggie,
seven-year old Monica, and eight-year old William) looked at
the bookcase, which was so full of children’s books of every
color and size that the volumes were stacked two deep in some
places and spilled off the lower shelves and onto the floor
like snowdrifts in others. This was only the bookcase in the
boys’ room. The one in Monica’s room was just as full to overflowing,
though the books in that bookcase were bound mostly in pink
and yellow covers, instead of the blue and red covers here in
this room. The bookshelves downstairs, a row of them that filled
the longest wall of the playroom, were likewise piled high and,
in addition, had easily-toppled columns of books leaning against
them. If the children or one of their friends weren’t so careful
with a Barbie horse or a Hot Wheels car or a Star Wars spaceship,
then one of the book piles would come toppling down and, no
doubt, scatter the Life or Scrabble game saved for later or
completely obliterate (which means destroy) the Lego castle
or block tower that serves as mission control for the tan or
green army man army.
The three children oftentimes wanted their
Father to read the same story they had read only the last night
or just a few days ago and he would wave his hands at the nearest
pile of books and say, “With all these books you want to read
the same old story book?” He would grab one at random, usually
the largest, heaviest one he could find, and declare excitedly,
without so much as looking at the cover, “Herein lies dragons
and knights and maidens in need of rescue or is it knights and
maidens and dragons in need of rescue?” He would flip open the
book and say, “Page twenty-three. A sword fight between a giraffe
and a monkey!” He’d flip some more pages. “Page seventy-one.
The pirate captain discovers a new island with rubies, diamonds,
and emeralds as far as his one good eye can see and a light
buffet just in case he gets a little hungry.” Father would then
look at the three children as if they had just asked to have
ketchup on their cake and say, “And you want to read the same
old story book?” Flip. “Page one hundred twenty four, paragraph
seven, column three. An evil, alien, insectoid race, each with
twelve legs, two tails, three heads and an electromagnetic blaster
is outwitted by a baby Pegasus!” Flip. “Page quirtle, paragraph
smimnot. A Gleep and a Ffrap, the brownish kind, meet the North
Wind who blows them across the desert, or is it dessert?, to
a place no Gleep or Ffrap has gone before.” He would decry like
this for a few minutes until one of them, usually Monica, laughing
so hard, had to run hurry to the bathroom lest the pee escape.
The children knew they had plenty to read.
And would, every now and then, make piles of books they had
read (or had had read to them) and wonder how it was that they
managed to read (or be read) so many pages of so many books.
They would also look at the remaining books and wonder if anyone
could ever read that many books even if they lived to be two
hundred years old. But they also very much enjoyed re-reading
a favorite book, one they knew they liked, or a story they had
just heard recently and not have to risk listening to something
that didn’t turn out to be as good as they had hoped or was,
even worse, one of those stories with a lesson in it. Usually,
their Father would ignore their pleas to re-read a story and
start them off on, in his words, “an uncharted literary adventure.”
But tonight, it was their Father, glasses
readied for reading, pillow propped behind his head in reading
position, holding a book none of them had ever before seen and
saying, for the first time that they could remember, “Tonight,
I think we ought to read the same old story book.”
Oh, his mouth did say those words! And
the three children did hear them! But his tone of voice was
mischievous and the children knew that, tonight, they were in
for something special.
But their Father said nothing more. He
simply held the book none of them had ever seen before in his
lap and smiled at them.
The three children looked at each other
and then at their Father, who still said nothing, and then back
at each other until, without one word being said between them,
the three children elected eight-year old William as the one
who would learn the cause of their Father’s odd behavior.
William thought of many things he might
say or do or ask to draw his Father out, but, having learned
many times from his Father that if you want a direct answer,
ask a direct question, he asked, “What about that book?” He
looked at the book in Father’s lap. William added, “I mean,
what is that book about and can you, please, read it to us tonight?”
The two other children (five-year old
Reggie and seven-year old Monica), again without words, let
William know that he had asked the correct question and they,
too, sat eyeing the book in Father’s lap.
With the same mischievous expression and
tone, Father asked, “This book? T his story book?” He held up
the dark blue book for the three children to see. On the cover
was a square, black ink, line drawing of an old woman in a rocking
chair reading a book that looked very much like the book Father
was holding. Above the picture was the title.
William and Monica read the title to themselves.
Reggie, however, who was certainly a good reader for his age,
but was still only five (five and three quarters if you asked
him) read the title aloud, slowly, “The Same Old Story Book.”
Not one of the three children laughed
or so much as smiled. They looked from the book to their Father’s
eyes. He looked at them in turn, from youngest to oldest, seeming
to be either very proud of them or very proud of himself – or
maybe it was the story book of which he was so proud? – the
children couldn’t tell.
William, again elected as the one who
had to shake Father from his revery, asked more than said, “The
Same Old Story Book?”
William, now not sure he wanted to have
his Father read from this book which didn’t seem very good judging
either by its cover or by its title, did not know what to ask
or say next.
Monica, with her sweet, soft, yet oddly
riveting voice came to William’s rescue. “What is it about?”
To the three children’s relief, Father
leaned back against the pillow, adjusted his glasses, opened
the cover, and said, “Let’s see.”
Even though not one of the three children
expected the dull-looking and dull-sounding book to be anything
worth hearing, they leaned more closely to their Father and
watched carefully as he flipped the cover to reveal the first
There were a few words written on the
first page, the same as on most every other book: the name of
the book again, the name of the author again, and lots of other
words and numbers that had nothing to do with the story, but,
as Father explained, everything to do with the book itself and
The next page was empty. And the next
page was– but Father closed the book so quickly that none of
the three children saw what was there.
“I think, tonight,” said Father matter-of-factly,
“Reggie will read us the story.”
Monica spoke quickly and, as always, assuredly.
“Reggie is only five.”
Father looked directly at Monica and said
in the same tone as she just used, “I am quite aware of that
“But he doesn’t read so well yet,” she
“I can assure you Miss Monica,” Father
said, “that not only do I appreciate just how good of a reader
Reggie is, but that he is fully able to read this story book.”
Monica was at a loss for words, but William
came to her rescue and explained what she had on her mind. “Reggie
reads too slowly.”
Monica added, “It’s no fun to hear stories
when he reads them.”
By now Reggie seemed unhappy, but was
also nodding his head up and down not completely agreeing with
his sister and brother, but fairly sure that he did not want
the pressure of having to practice reading during story time.
Father, again, looked at all three children
in turn. “I feel certain that our little Reggie, beginning reader
that he is, is more than capable of reading this story at a
speed that will entertain us all.”
Monica thought she understood. She announced
it as if it were a certainty. “I know! It’s a picture book!”
Father looked at her with pride, smiled,
then said, “It is not a picture book. But that was an excellent
guess.” Then he said, “We can either spend the rest of story
time discussing what may or may not be inside this story book
and Reggie’s ability or lack of ability to read it to our satisfaction,
or we can hand Reggie the book (Which he did. Reggie took it
as though it were a slightly dangerous animal.), lean back (Which
he did, fluffing the pillow behind his head.), and have him
read us a story.” Father closed his eyes and let his face fall
into a peaceful, relaxed state.
After a few seconds and a gentle poke
in the shoulder from Monica, Reggie opened the story book slowly.
He came to the first page with the name
of the book and the author and the words and numbers that explained
all about the book and its publisher. He slowly turned the next
page and, as before, it was empty.
He turned to the third page and both the
other children groaned.
“Not that story, again!” they both said
at once. Monica turned towards her Father. “We’ve heard that
one plenty of times.”
William agreed, “I am sick of it, too.”
“Is that so?” asked Father. Then he opened
his eyes, looked directly at Reggie and said, softly but firmly,
“Please read the story.”
There was no disobeying this tone of voice
so Reggie began to read. He read clearly and with no hesitation,
“Once upon a time, there was a Prince who-”
“That’s not the way it goes!” declared
Monica. “He’s not reading it correctly,” she said to her Father.
“Sounds like he’s doing a fine job to
me,” said Father. “Please continue, Reggie.”
Reggie continued, “- a Prince who could
see into the future. He had this magic crystal marble that -”
“Dad!” yelled Monica. “That is not the
story! He’s making it up!”
“I am not so making it up!” pouted Reggie.
“I am reading it.”
Father, unexpectedly, asked, “What do
you think William? Do you think he’s making it up and, if so,
what should he be reading?”
Father’s eyes were still closed, but both
of the other children were looking at William, hoping he, their
eldest sibling, took their side.
“He is making it up,” said William with
certainty. All three children looked at their Father whose eyes
were still peacefully closed.
For a few seconds, Father was silent.
Then Father said, “You didn’t answer my complete question, Sweet
William. I asked ‘Do you think he’s making it up and if, so,
what should he be reading?’”
“He should be reading Hansel and Gretel,”
said William. “Not a story about a Prince who could see into
Monica accused, “William! You’re not telling
the truth! Now, you’re making up stuff.”
Father asked gently, “What do you think
he should be reading, Monica Mouse?”
“It’s Cinderella.” She pointed her finger
at the picture on the first page. “See? That’s Cinderella with
the broom and her wicked stepmother in the fancy dress.”
“Is not!” said William, thumping the page
with his index finger. “It’s Hansel and Gretel and their little
cottage.” The two elder children glared at each other.
“And what do you see in the picture, Reggie?”
asked Father calmly. Reggie shrugged. Father, whose eyes were
closed, could not see the shrug, so he prodded, “I didn’t hear
Reggie shrugged again and said, meekly,
“It’s a Prince with marble with a castle in it. Isn’t it?”
“It’s Cinderella!” said Monica.
“Hansel and Gretel!” said William.
“Hansel and Gretel!”
They both looked, more like glared, at
Reggie who shrugged and said nothing, so they looked, and again
it was more like a glare, at Father whose eyes were still closed.
But Father could tell they were looking at him, or at least
knew that he needed to take one of their sides in the argument,
so he said, still very calmly and reasonably, “Since no one
present wants to hear either Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel,
I suggest we listen to Reggie’s story. And I think,” said Father
with his soft, yet firm voice, “that if we listen very closely
and pay careful attention we might just see that Reggie is reading
the correct story. Agreed?” he asked.
The two elder children groaned, but after
a few seconds they both said, “Agreed.”
“Agreed,” said Reggie quickly.
Father laughed. “I meant please continue
Reggie continued reading about the Prince
who could see the future and he had just gotten to the part
about meeting the witch’s pet Dragon, when Monica said, “Hey!”
Reggie stopped reading.
“Hey?” asked Father, eyes still closed.
“The picture changed!”
“What do you see now?” asked Father.
Monica, a little unsurely, said, “I see
Puss in Boots.”
“Hmm,” said Father, “perhaps we need to
pay just a little closer attention and listen just a little
more intently to Reggie’s story. And I must add, Reggie, that
you are doing a great job reading. Not at all stuttery.”
Reggie said brightly, “Thanks,”
So Reggie continued reading and turned
the page and continued reading some more even though William
said, softly and disappointedly, “It still looks like Hansel
and Gretel to me.”
The Prince who could see the future had
no trouble avoiding the Witch, since he could tell where she
was about to be and not be there himself, but when he carelessly
lost the marble and of course the Witch ended up with it, he
was just about to walk into her trap, when Monica yelled, “There’s
Again, Monica’s excitement caused Reggie
to stop reading at which point she said, “Hey!”
“Again with the ‘Hey?’” asked Father.
“Keep reading!” she told Reggie. “The
Prince went away.”
And even though William said somewhat
sadly, “I still see Hansel and Gretel,” Reggie continued the
The Witch did manage to trap the Prince
and left him there so that she could capture the King and Queen
and take over the kingdom. The witch’s legion (which means a
very large group) of human-sized snakes were just about to attack
“I see it now!” said William. “There’s
the legion of snakes and there’s the castle and what’s that
behind the castle?”
“I think it’s the pet Dragon,” said Monica.
Reggie nodded and said, “It is. He’s going
to help the King and Queen.”
“How do you know?” asked Monica.
Reggie shrugged and said, “I just do.”
“What’s the Dragon going to do?” asked
Before Reggie could say anything, Father
interrupted, “Maybe if we listened we’d find out.”
This time Reggie didn’t need to be prompted
to continue the story and, as it turned out, he was right about
the Dragon. The pet Dragon did save the King and Queen by snatching
them away from the snakes just in the nick of time. Even though
the Witch could see that her pet Dragon was planning to save
the King and Queen, there was very little she could do about
it. Without her broom she was unable to fly and the snakes,
of course, couldn’t fly, so she and her snakes could only watch
as the pet Dragon flew away, her two captives in his grasp.
Soon enough the Dragon also rescued the
Prince and the four of them (Dragon, Prince, King, and Queen)
came up with a plan to steal back the marble and even though
it was little complicated and didn’t make much sense to either
Monica or William, the pictures that accompanied it were quite
beautiful and all in all “The Prince Who Could See The Future”
turned out to be such an exciting story that when Reggie finished
and turned the last page to reveal that it was over, both William
and Monica said, “Awww!”
But Father didn’t say “Aww!” He said,
“That was nice, Reggie. Thank you.”
At which both William and Monica quickly
said, “Thanks, Reggie.” And William added, “You did read it
very nicely.” And Monica agreed, “He did.”
Father stood up, stretched, yawned and
said, “Well, that’s story time for this evening. Time for bed.”
But not one of the children moved. Father reached his hand out
for the story book, but Reggie was still staring at the last
page where the large words read very clearly “The End.” and
didn’t see that Father wanted the book.
“Dad?” asked Monica.
But Monica didn’t quite know what question
to ask so she looked at William who shrugged, just as Reggie
closed the book, looked at the book’s cover and gasped.
“What?!?” exclaimed Monica and William
together. They, too, looked at the book and saw that, on the
cover, there was now a beautiful, full-color picture of the
Prince holding the marble riding the Dragon, above which was
the title, reading, “The Prince Who Could See The Future.”
Looking up at Father, William asked, “How
did that happen?”
Father shrugged and did not look at all
concerned. “Why shouldn’t that be the cover?” he asked. “That’s
the story inside.”
“But, it wasn’t when we began,” explained
Monica. “When we began, it was called ‘The Same Old Story Book’
and there was a boring old drawing of an old woman sitting in
a rocking chair reading.”
“Good memory, Monica,” said Father. “But
now it’s not. Now it’s the book that Reggie read.”
The three kids sat on the sofa looking
at the cover of the book for a while. Finally, Reggie yawned
and handed the book to Father. Then the three children, dreamily,
started making going to bed movements and Father, after a few
minutes, tucked the two boys in their beds and led Monica into
“Dad?” asked Monica.
“Is that story book going to something
different every time?”
“It could be,” Father said. “But it could
also be the same old story, if that’s what you want.” Father
gently placed Monica in bed and tucked her in.
“Father?” asked Monica.
“Yes?” he responded.
Father chuckled lightly. “Yes,” said Father,
“it is.” He kissed his daughter gently on the cheek, ruffled
her hair just a little, and said, “Goodnight, sweetie. Sweet
But Monica was already asleep, dreaming,
one would expect, of Princes and Dragons and Witches or, perhaps,
of something else.
© 2000 Stuart B. Baum, Cover illustration by