Monday, November 10, 2008


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?


Terri Thayer said...

The most fun baby shower I've attended lately was when one of my critique partners got herself knocked up. We decided on a book shower and each brought our favorites. The range was huge, from non fiction to the classics.

I was totally stoked to find "There's a Monster at the End of this Book" in board book form. From my son's era, not mine, but a favorite.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Timely posting for me. Two people in our office just had babies. Last week I purchased boxed sets of Winnie the Pooh for each. I've always given books to new parents and to children in our family. It's the gift that keeps on giving, is quiet, and doesn't require batteries.

When one of my friends had her daughter Rebecca 14 years ago, her co-workers gave her a box of books all with the name "Rebecca" in the title. I thought that extremely clever.

Keith Raffel said...

Me, too. Always give books to new borns. A year or two later the parents tell me how much they've loved them. Gotta get the next generation ready to read!

jbstanley said...

My son and I are sharing some excellent quality time reading The Amazing Adventures of Captain Underpants!

I think I'm enjoying them more than he is!

Jess Lourey said...

I absolutely agree that books are the best gifts for everyone, Cricket, of every age! We may be a little biased on this site, but what a more amazing present can a person receive--it's a ticket to another world!

I lead Explore Books at my daughter's school, and right now, we're reading The Mysterious Benedict Society. My daughter, a 5th grader, gets embarassed at some of the activities I come up with, but I love it.

G.M. Malliet said...

I still read Beatrix Potter. Ken Follet's comment on "The Tale of the Fierce Bad Rabbit" can't be improved on:

"This is the shortest thriller ever written. In just 142 words it has suspense, crime, gunplay, and retributive justice. I read it to my children when they were small, and now I read it to my grandchildren."