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Growing Reader

My Walk Down Memory Lane with Corduroy

by Charnaie Gordon

Illustration credit: Don Freeman

“What are some of your all-time favorite children’s books?”

This is a question I’m often asked by others. It’s a tough question to answer, though, because how on earth could I narrow it down to just a handful of books? My response can vary from year to year because excellent new books are constantly being published. However, there is one book that will always be among my favorites — that book is none other than Corduroy by Don Freeman.

Corduroy is the book that got me through my childhood. It taught me several important lessons early in life and touched upon topics such as the importance of saving money, looking beyond first impressions, friendship, feeling a sense of belonging, kindness, and love. The characters seemed to come to life and felt like my companions — especially the little girl, Lisa.

Corduroy was the first children’s book in which I remember seeing a main character of color who looked just like me (something that was very rare at the time). By featuring a character who looked like me, a character I could relate to, Corduroy taught me the importance of representation. It’s so important for kids to be able to see themselves represented and reflected in the pages of a book. This helps children understand that if they can see it, they can be it. Kids typically determine what they can be based on the examples around them, so it’s crucial to expose them to positive examples of representation in children’s books — books like Corduroy — from an early age.

The overall message that rings loud and clear throughout Don Freeman’s classic tale is acceptance. The story serves as a beautiful reminder to readers of all ages that we are great just the way we are. Corduroy, the buttonless bear lets us know that we are worthy of appreciation and that true friends accept us, flaws and all. I mean, what’s not to love about Corduroy? He’s so cute and lovable — even with the missing button on his overalls! I think he might even be more popular now then he was when he first came on the scene in 1968. In the decades since its original publication, Corduroy has consistently stood the test of time and appealed to young readers, generation after generation.

Today, it is such a treat for me to read both the original Corduroy and its companions with my children because it always brings back fond memories of my own childhood. I couldn’t wait to read Corduroy Takes a Bow, a book written by Viola Davis and illustrated by Jody Wheeler that was recently released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Don Freeman’s original story. I’m thankful that this book and others will help keep the story of Corduroy alive for many more years to come.

I will never tire of watching my kids’ eyes light up just like mine did at the end of Corduroy, when the little bear finally finds acceptance and a home with a kind little girl — something he always wanted. Each time I read it, not only do I get to relive the magic of the story but I get to take a trip down memory lane and have the comfort of being a kid again.