stargirl December 19


The Importance of Being Awesomely Predictable by Beth Claycomb

Every family has one, that person who gives the worst gifts. On birthdays or Christmas or Groundhog’s Day – it doesn’t matter. Their present will disappoint you.

In my family, I’m that person.

It’s not because I don’t think carefully about what to get someone on important gift-giving days. Actually, I spend a huge amount of time selecting each gift I give.

It can’t be because I don’t take into consideration what the giftee’s tastes are. I factor that into the equation and then choose accordingly.

I always mail my gifts on time and I spell the recipient’s name correctly on the card.

The reason I am the lousiest gift-giver in my family is because everyone already knows what they’re getting from Aunt Bethie before they open it.

That’s right. I’m the Book Aunt.

It all started with my sister-in-law. When she got married, she became a step-mother to a teenager, and that technically made me a semi-step-aunt-by-marriage. It was close enough for me so I went shopping. That Christmas the young lady got a copy of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, a classic every child should read. It felt like a safe bet for a gift since I didn’t know the child at all. I remember she was very polite when she opened it and thanked both my husband and me, even though he hadn’t done anything. My sister-in-law was grateful that we had included her.

“Don’t worry,” I replied, “I’m going to be the Book Aunt. I’m just getting started.”

Less than a year later, this same sister-in-law had a baby girl. Guess what she got for a baby gift? A picture book and a stuffed animal, of course. I was on a roll.

My sister had the next baby, my first nephew.

Every time a birthday came around it felt like a holiday for me. ‘Tis better to give than to receive, I thought as I sent off another Amazon order to my new baby nephew.

Books for each addition to my family were chosen with care. As a 7th grade teacher and without any children of my own yet, I didn’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of what was hot in picture books. So I consulted my resources when I couldn’t think of just the right title. I looked at best seller lists and got onto the local library’s picture book of the month email. I checked in with the master of read-aloud, Jim Trelease, and sent books that would be fun for parents to read at bed time. As my nieces and nephews got older, the fun was in discussing their gift-books with them.

When my oldest niece hit fourth grade I began to select awesome chapter books for her. Now a sixth grader, she received Savvy and Scumble by Ingrid Law for her last birthday and loved them. While camping this summer, we had a great talk about them.

Under the clear Montana sky, I asked her, “What kind of savvy do wish you had?”

She slapped her cheek and replied, “The ability to repel mosquitos.”

Sometimes I do add a little extra to a book to give it a bit more oomph. For example, when my nephew turned ten, I got him the book Swindle by Gordon Korman and a pack of baseball cards. There wasn’t a rare card in the pack, but he loved the book anyway.

And while it makes me predictable, I stand firm in the idea that books really don’t need anything extra to make them the ideal present. They’re truly the perfect gift.

A book is thoughtful. It is individual. It shows you are aware of a person’s hopes and dreams and passions and interests. A book takes a long time to wear out and it never needs batteries. It’s one of the few gifts that can be re-gifted without too much worry, and if you have to ship it, you don’t have to mark it as fragile.

And let’s face it; they’re so easy to wrap!

The only downside is that the element of surprise is lost. My nieces and nephews get their present and see it’s rectangle-shaped. So that makes me a little bit unoriginal. Who cares! I might be the Book Aunt, but I’m truly a goddess at what I do. The real gift is always in the story. It can be enjoyed again and again and then shared with another. A good story will connect generations and give you something to talk about when you see each other.

Imagine asking, “Did you like the book? What was your favorite part? You haven’t read it yet? Go get it! We’ll read a little bit right now.”

Imagine what would happen then.

Imagine if we were all the Book Aunt.

Next time you’re looking for gifts, remember you could be the Book Aunt in your family. Heck, you could be the Book Uncle, or Book Grandma, or Book Next Door Neighbor. It’s no secret that children need books. Their favorites will come from those close to them, those who know them best.

So, to all my nieces and nephews out there, guess what you’re getting for Christmas? I’ll give you a hint–it’s coming via media mail.


Beth Claycomb has been a 7th grade language arts teacher for over 15 years.  She is a wife, mother, and currently resides in Colorado.  Right now she’s working on her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.  She likes to go shopping for books, but loves to read them even more.  Find her on Twitter @bgclaycomb.