Adults give books to children because we remember, often from our own childhoods, their lasting gifts of pleasure, surprise, and enlightenment. We remember, and so we’re willing to wait for the moment when the child steps away from whiz-bang, light-up, push-button entertainment and picks up the book we selected just for them. We trust the book—whether published yesterday or a hundred years ago—to speak to our particular reader in its particular way.
This year, I’ll give C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books (plus a box of Turkish Delight) to a nephew who is ready and waiting for them, although I doubt he knows it.
I’ll give an old favorite, Nancy Bond’s A STRING IN THE HARP, to a niece in 5th grade, because I was in 5th grade when it was first pressed into my hands by my school librarian. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of the surprise near the end!
I’ll give Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s ONE FOR THE MURPHYS to another nephew. He’s a person of deep feeling and compassion, and I want him to know that I see and honor those qualities.
The young people in my life are used to getting books from me. They are learning, I hope, to look forward to the flat, rectangular packages. But if not, I can wait. Just like the book auntie in Alice Low’s wonderful poem, I can wait.
A MERRY LITERARY CHRISTMAS–By Alice Low
When Christmas shopping time draws nigh,
And I am faced with gifts to buy,
I think about one relative
Who always had one gift to give.
Year after year her present came,
And every year it was the same.
While other gifts were round and fat,
(their secrets hidden) hers was flat,
Rectangular, the corners square,
I knew exactly what was there.
I’d pass it by without a look—
My aunt had sent another book!
I’d only open it to write
A “thank-you” that was too polite,
But every year when Christmas went
I’d read the book my aunt had sent,
And looking back, I realize
Each gift was treasure in disguise.
So now it’s time to write her here
A thank-you note that is sincere.
So—thanks for Alice and Sara Crewe
For Christopher Robin and Piglet and Pooh,
For Little Nell and William Tell
And Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell
Thanks for Tom and Jim and Huck
For Robinson Crusoe and Dab-Dab The Duck,
For Meg and Jo and Johnny Crow,
For Papa Geppetto’s Pinocchio.
For Mary Poppins and Rat and Toad,
King Arthur and Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road,
For Kipling’s Kim and tales from Grimm,
And Ferdinand, Babar, and Tiny Tim.
I loved them all, I’m glad I met them.
They’re with me still, I won’t forget them.
So I’ll give books on Christmas Day
Though I know what all my nieces say—
I know it from the way they write
A “thank-you” that is too polite.