While discussing what to get our niece, Dee, for her upcoming fourth birthday, Mr. Goodlaff and I quickly agreed on one thing: a book should be included. Both Mr. Goodlaff and I believe that books are an important part of childhood, but what came out of our discussion was the realization that I am a freakishly-devoted lover of books (though this, we already knew). For me, it goes beyond the covers and bindings and words. I remember stories and worlds; I remember the way that reading of adventure and mysteries made me feel. For me, books open up the world.
I've always loved to read, and my childhood was filled with hundreds of books. I'd come home with those newsprint Scholastic book catalogues, circle sometimes a dozen books, and pass it off to Mama Goodlaff with big, wide eyes, wanting so badly to get them all. And the yearly book fair? Oh, I lived for the book fair. For one week, I would spend my lunchtime in the library, running my hands over the spines of all those brand new books, trying to decide which ones I should take home with me. I was a voracious reader, reading anything as long as it, and I, sat still long enough.
As a child I would get so engrossed in a story that I would hear nothing until Mama Goodlaff was practically banging down my door (though sometimes, I have to admit, I ignored her on purpose, which I'm pretty sure she knew--sorry Mom!). Even now, when I'm reading a book, the world falls away and I live only between the words on the pages in front of me.
I truly believe that the stories we read as children swirl about inside our heads for the rest of our lives. They teach us about life and mold us into the eventual people we become. A velveteen rabbit tells us that once we are real, we can't be ugly except to those who don't understand; somewhere, buried in all the comical poems of Shel Siverstein lives the wisdom that all the would-a, could-a, should-a's ran away from one little did; and, for all of the absurdity that lies beyond the looking glass, in Wonderland, we can still believe at least six impossible things before breakfast.
We understand our world through what we experience. Books allow us, from the safety of our own chairs, to live a thousand lives and experience things we might otherwise miss. And when you think about the fact that all the novels we ever read were the product of an author's imagination? Magic. Pure magic.
A book really is the only present you can open again and again.
And that's why we make it a point to give books to our nieces and nephews.
For Dee, we decided on Madeline of "twelve little girls in two straight lines" fame, and hope that she will enjoy that piece of her present for years to come. And I hope that she'll come to see the magic and value of books. Though, hopefully she'll be a little less obsessed with them than I seem to be....