Monday, June 06, 2011

The Gift of a Good Book - by Diane Kelly

Yesterday, I attended a baby shower. My gift? Why, books, of course!

As both a writer and an avid reader, I enjoy picking out books for gifts. Books have always had a special place in my life and, when I think back on my childhood, I can create a virtual chronology based on the books I read at the various stages.

I remember reading a book called “The Fat Cat” when I was pre-school age. The fat cat swallowed people whole, including a man named Sir Hottentot and another named Sir Linksalot. Of course, with such a high-protein diet, the cat became extraordinarily obese. Fortunately for both the cat and his victims, all problems were resolved when someone cut the fat feline open and the men he’d swallowed emerged miraculously alive, like Chilean miners. The cat also survived the surgery, though he was no longer fat after the tummy tuck procedure.

When I was in second grade, I’d sometimes sneak into my oldest sister’s room when I was feeling especially brave and read a book of scary stories and poems she had. I can still recite part of one of the poems that scared the bejeezus out of me:

Something lurks upon the stair,
Something that is,
And isn’t,

Yikes! It still scares me!

As an adolescent, I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. They took me back to a simpler time - you know, when women had to sew clothes by hand for their family and wash them by beating them on a rock in a creek. So much simpler than these days of Abercrombie and Fitch and washing machines, right?

I also remember a book called “The Witches Buttons” in which two girls were given magical buttons by an old woman. One of the buttons made them invisible, and another caused them to shrink and pulled them inside where they could fly the button like a spaceship. I must’ve read that book a dozen times. There was also a book called “The Secret Language” about two roommates at a boarding school who developed a secret language to communicate. Their greatest wish was that their families’ issues could be resolved so that they could move back home and live with their parents. Kinda sad, huh?

One creepy book I read was called “Dorp Dead” in which, for reasons I can’t recall, a pre-teen boy is forced to live in an isolated house with a man who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. The man is cruel and imposes strict, harsh rules on the boy. The boy discovers the man is building a cage to keep him in and somehow manages to escape. Before the boy leaves, he picks up a rock to scratch “Drop Dead” on the man’s front door, but ends up misspelling the word “drop,” an irony which is sure to cause the man to go into an obsessive-compulsive meltdown.

At a slightly older age, I’d test my brain power with Encyclopedia Brown books. I could never seem to solve the puzzles, though when I read the answers, which always seemed obvious, I managed to convince myself that I would’ve solved the mystery if only I’d given myself a few seconds longer to mull it over. Yeah, right.

Later, when I had my own children, one of my greatest joys was reading bedtime stories to them. Cuddling with them in their beds with a good book, putting my nose to their soft hair to sniff their baby shampoo scent, what a gift that special time was. I must’ve read “Jamberry” to my kids a thousand times. I could probably still recite it by heart. (It’s one of the books I bought for the baby shower.) I read my kids all of the Dr. Seuss books I’d loved as a kid, as well as “Go, Dog, Go!” and “Are You My Mother?” When they outgrew the bedtime story ritual, I cried. There’s nothing like bonding with your child over a good book.

What books did you enjoy as a child? Were they the same books you read with your children and grandchildren? Do you have a special book you've received or given as a gift?

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