Used to be when an invitation to a baby shower appeared in the mailbox -- or the inbox -- I'd hie me to the Babies R Us and indulge in tiny socks and stuffed animals and the inevitable pack of onesies for the expectant mother-to-be. Or rather, her progeny. I don't have children, so these infrequent forays were kind of fun, though my selections were safe to the point of blandness because I had little idea of what new mothers and their babies really needed.
Then I was called upon to actually organize a baby shower for a colleague at work. Ugh. So not my thing.
Luckily, this woman was down-to-earth, smart and not given to cute games or silly party themes. What would I want if I were in her practical shoes? Well, that was easy: books.
Everyone who attended the shindig brought brightly wrapped, rectangular packages, and we piled them high on a table. She had a blast opening them, and her new baby was well supplied with reading material until at least the age of five. They ranged from cushy pillow books the infant could sleep with to chapter books Mom and Dad could read to an older child. Many were classics: Mitten the Kitten, Dr. Seuss, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Goodnight Moon (okay that's a relatively recent "classic"), Maurice Sendak.
Since then I always give books when a wee one is on the way, and if I'm visiting a household with children, there's inevitably a book for them in my suitcase. Last Thanksgiving I gave my two-year-old cousin, Peyton, Skippyjon Jones. I was then called upon to read it to him. Conversations around the house stopped and family drifted into the living room where we sat. I admit I may have gotten a little carried away, with my wild gesticulations and bad Mexican accent, but the big grin on Peyton's face was well worth the embarrassment.
Recently, I visited a friend in Nashville who has a ten-year-old son. Artemis Fowl for him this time around. His parents have read to him every night since he was old enough to listen, and now, in addition to baseball and soccer and football and science camp, he reads whenever he can. He's gone through all the Harry Potter books, the Chronicles of Narnia, most of the Hardy Boys mysteries, Michael Chabon's Summerland, and a host of others.
Of course, I also give books to adults. Lots of them. I've been knows to check off my entire Christmas list at the local indie bookstore -- these days it's The Readers Cove. And it's getting to be that time of year again ...
Who do you give books to? And how do you encourage children to read?