I bought my first children’s book six years before my first baby was born. I was so anxious to share it with her, I propped it open on the side of her bassinet the day I brought her home from the hospital. I diligently turned the pages and moved the book from one side to the other, to make sure she was facing it when she opened her eyes. I was a bit disappointed that her first attempt to handle a book was to take it to her mouth and chew on it. But I didn’t let that stop me. I continued to hold her on my lap and show her the pictures and read the words on the pages. I figured she would realize that even though books were not for chewing on, they were wonderful things to hold and touch. Just a few days earlier I had stopped her from putting a dead cockroach in her mouth and I hoped my show of utter disgust and the violent flinging of the bug into the trash contrasted enough with my reaction to the book in the mouth that she would get the message: Cockroaches are bad!
Books are good! Of course, much later she realized there is a way to devour a book!
For twelve years I lived in a small town in Venezuela. My four children were born there. During those years, I witnessed the grand openings of the first Burger King, where they ran out of patties by noon, and McDonald’s, which came to be associated with fine family dining for the affluent. Even a Blockbuster Video opened across from the McDonald’s. I waited in vain for that most precious of American cultural institutions, the public library, to open a branch in my town. That never happened. But I knew what treasurers lay hidden in a public library. So when I would travel to Texas in the summers to visit my parents, I would take my children to the library, where I could check out thirty books at a time, spend hours reading them and go back for more the next day.
Reading to and with our children is a big family ritual that has continued well into adolescence and young adulthood. My husband read aloud all seven Harry Potter books and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to our kids. Most nights it even helped him fall asleep but no so much our children. We remember road trips by the books we listened to on tape while traveling. Once, we arrived home before the last chapter of Sarah Weeks’ So. B. It. We left the suitcases in the car but brought the last CD inside to finish listening. We sat around the player sobbing as the story came to an end.
When I want to give a very special gift, I try to find just the right book. To baby showers I take either Nancy Tillman’s Wherever Your Are: My Love Will Find You or The Crown on Your Head, two beautiful books on the power of unconditional love and the nobility of every human being born into this life. To brides and grooms to be, I give Carmen Agra Deedy’s Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale, a beautifully illustrated version of a traditional story from both Latin America and the Middle East, about finding just the right match. My ultimate reading gift of love is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I can give it to a first grader, a teenager or an adult to say: To live is to love, or the other way around.
It had been a while since I had read to a small child on my lap. A friend and her eighteen-month old toddler were visiting the other day. The little boy noticed the picture book I had next to me on the floor. He handed me the book and ordered me to “Read!” He then placed himself on my lap to listen to the book. Although the book was not one that I would have chosen for his age and interest, he was such an expert book lover already that he paid careful attention as I turned each page and read. Someone had loved him enough to read to him everyday. For days afterwards, I thought about how my heart missed someone to share this love with.
Susan Hansen is an Instructional Coach for a Dual Language Program in Austin, Texas. She enjoys reading in English, Spanish and Farsi. To find out how she came to love public libraries, you can read her story at http://miningforhiddengems.blogspot.com/2011/06/woman-who-took-away-locks.html.