Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.
Emilie Buchwald, children’s author
The other day President Barack Obama visited a Virginia bookstore to do some Christmas shopping. Accompanied by his two daughters and a retinue of Secret Service agents, he bought 15 children’s books that he plans to give as gifts to family members.
The excursion was dutifully recorded by media cameras as part of Small Business Saturday, a national effort that encourages shoppers to patronize small local shops after Thanksgiving. Seems to me, though, that his outing did more than that. It focused attention on books and, as a writer and as a parent, few presents are as worthy of praise as the gift of reading.
A book, be it digital or paper, is a forever delight, an endless source of entertainment and information, the gift that opens doors and nurtures memories. Few things give me as much pleasure, as much hope, as spending an evening with a good yarn.
That’s why I, too, give books for the holidays. Lots of books. Books I’d like to read and books that I’ve already read and want to share. Books that can change someone’s way of thinking or, at the very least, prompt thoughtful deliberation.
My tradition of holiday book-giving began long ago, when my children were young and impressionable and I was intent on passing on a reading habit that had provided solace and adventure to a young girl who needed both. Every year on Jan. 6, the Christian feast of Epiphany when the biblical Magi were said to have visited the baby Jesus, Los Reyes Magos — the three kings — dropped off a book to each of my five children.
The ritual, if truth be told, was not met with overwhelming appreciation at first. The kids would’ve preferred to get “stuff” — stuff that would’ve been abandoned at the bottom of the toy chest. Stuff with a limited life, stuff that would never transcend time or generations.
Nevertheless, I persisted, not only in my gift-giving but in the ritual of bedtime reading. Over time, the picture books became chapter books and the chapter books became tomes that reflected their varied and increasingly adult-like interests. One year, I gave one son Freakonomics another time my daughter received Memoirs of a Geisha. Yet, it’s the early books that I remember best, the books that tug at the heartstrings.
Some continue to grace my bookshelves to this day, and oh-these-many years later, my voice still catches on the refrain of Love You Forever. I also can’t help but smile when I recite, “A red dog on a blue tree. A blue dog on a red tree. A green dog on a yellow tree,” from my oldest son’s all-time favorite, Go, Dog, Go!
If there is anything I miss aboutt having young children under foot, it’s the tender intimacy of bedtime reading, when, for an inviolable, miraculous hour, the strife and struggle of daily life ceased and the kids snuggled on my lap even as they became way too big for such things.
I joke with friends, some of whom love-love-love shoes, that a good novel by a favorite writer is better than any pair of Jimmy Choos. True to this religion, when my two grand-nieces and a new granddaughter were born this fall, I arrived at the hospital each time carrying a gift bag heavy with promise. Under the colored tissue, between the pages of that childhood classic, Goodnight Moon, I offered them a world of enchantment and the priceless joy of rhyming magic.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.