The presents we give

Books line the walls of my living room, my office, and my library downstairs (also known as “the basement”).  Books from my childhood and my mother’s childhood share space on my children’s shelves with the new Dr. Seuss and all kinds of books about planes and trains.  Books are tucked into my purse, by my bedside table, and stashed in the car for those rare but essential emergency naptimes (you know, when both kids pass out en route to somewhere and you decide to just let them sleep for a few more minutes?).  Books have given me eyes into so many different worlds, real or imagined, and let me try on different selves as well.  Books.

Years ago, I gave books as gifts to my young cousins, when they were just starting to read and it was easy.  As they grew up, however, there were more and more of them, and they were growing up and reading things I’d never heard of.  I didn’t know what they’d read, or what they were interested in, and so I finally just gave up and starting sending gift cards.  Then cash.  And then I realized I was that aunt who nobody knew who sent a card and a bill that was hastily stuffed into the front pocket of jeans on the way out to the mall, and that was the end of it.

This year, I’ve decided that even though I will undoubtedly not make everyone happy, I will try.  I went to the bookstore when the grandparents were here the other night and shopped.  I shopped up and down the aisles, through the children’s section, into the teen section, back to the classics section, and I bought every. single. young cousin one of my favorite books from childhood.

I have twelve girls now to buy for, between the ages of 4 and 16, and it was kind of overwhelming at first.

But then, then the books started jumping off the shelves and into my arms, announcing themselves as old friends, personalities nearly shouting at me, “pick me, pick me! remember me? you read me  on that long car trip, remember? i was your companion during a year of difficult rides on the school bus! i made you laugh! i snuggled under the covers with you late at night, so many nights, and you read me by flashlight!”

And then it was done.

My arms were full of old friends, classics, award winners, and not, and tonight I wrapped them up and sent them off to all my little cousins and nieces, with a note, saying “These were some of my favorite books.  I hope you love them too.”  But really?  I’d be happy if one of the twelve fell in love with one of the books, or if half of them even got read.

It’s my little way of saying, yes, technology is grand, but books?  Books will be your friends forever.


25 Responses to The presents we give

  1. Bon says:

    i love that you did this. i also want a list of the books! 🙂

  2. upsidebackwards says:

    Sometimes I think we might be twins separated at birth… We are house-hunting and one of the “issues” is finding a house with space for all the books (oh, and the kids too, of course). Marcel Pagnol next to Differential Calculus next to a Russian technical dictionary next to Terry Pratchett next to CS Lewis. Funnily enough, we can always find the one we’re looking for – and usually something else we want to read next, as well!
    I think your young cousins are very lucky ladies. Are there no boys? Or did you not buy books for boys? Why not? (No criticism, just curious).

    • whymommy says:

      Mmmm, some of my favorites. I almost bought the Narnia books — and would have, except surely they’ve all read the first one and stopped somewhere in the middle? So many do.

      And no, there are no boys! Isn’t that amazing? My brother-in-law and all three first cousins all had families of two to three girls each — and I got two more by marriage later! Twelve girls, no boys among the cousins.

      We had the boys. And they will get the classics too, along with liberal interspersings of Heinlein’s boys’ books, The Phantom Tollbooth, Encyclopedia Brown (already a favorite, at five) The Hardy Boys and Tom Swift (from grandpa’s shelf).

  3. JP says:

    I love this – books were always my favorite thing as a kid, and there are a few that I cannot imagine growing up without (I still have the copy of Black Beauty I used to read over and over – and memorize lines out of, and no doubt irritate everyone around me with 🙂 ).

  4. *m* says:

    Oh Susan, you are a woman after my own heart. Forgive the long comment but I have to share one of my favorite holiday poems with you in case you don’t already know it. It always makes me a little teary. I’m such a sappy book nerd. Merry Christmas!


    When Christmas shopping time draws nigh,
    And I am faced with gifts to buy,
    I think about one relative
    Who always had one gift to give,
    Year after year her present came.
    And every year it was the same.
    While other gifts were round and fat,
    (Their secrets hidden) hers was flat.
    Rectangular, the corners square.
    I knew exactly what was there.
    I’d pass it by without a look—
    My aunt had sent another book!
    I’d only open it to write
    A “thank-you’ that was too polite,
    But every year when Christmas went
    I’d read the book my aunt had sent.
    And looking back, I realize
    Each gift was treasure in disguise.
    So now it’s time to write her here
    A thank-you note that is sincere.

    So—thanks for Alice and Sara Crewe,
    For Christopher Robin and Piglet and Pooh,
    For Little Nell and William Tell
    And Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell.

    Thanks for Tom and Jim and Huck,
    For Robinson Crusoe and Dab-Dab the duck.
    For Meg and Jo and Johnny Crow
    And Papa Geppetto’s Pinocchio.

    For Mary Poppins and Rat and Toad,
    King Arthur and Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road,
    For Kiplings Kim and tales from Grimm,
    And Ferdinand, Babar and Tiny Tim.

    I loved them all, I’m glad I met them.
    They’re with me still, I won’t forget them.
    So I’ll give books on Christmas Day
    Though I know what all my nieces say-
    I know it from the way they write
    A “thank-you” that is too polite.

  5. Susan K says:

    Our house is overflowing with our books and our two girls (4 and 9) are adding to it. I am excited that the 9 year old loves Encyclopedia Brown and that we’ve finally got her to start reading Harry Potter (see, we told you you would like it!!). Now if I could just get her to try Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys…. And then when she is a little older, I hope she will try my old copies of Enid Blyton – The Castle of Adventure and The Island of Adventure. Old paperbacks with English spelling and my name printed in pencil inside.

    I LOVE that you have done this.

    And have fun this weekend!!! I sure hope we get even half the expected 12 inches (assuming that tonight we do manage to buy a tree and all the supplies I need to bake up a storm when we are snowed in!).

  6. Jessica L says:

    Susan – I always give books too! To my cousin’s children, to my friends kids, to the boy’s friends, to my friends. I LOVE to read and I am really hoping the boys pick up my love of reading. Our house and my mom’s house are filled with books. I am sure I order the most from both of the boys Scholastic Book Order forms at school!

    I hope everyone loves the books you chose.

  7. Becky says:

    This is why I work in a bookstore! Surrounded by old friends, making new ones daily…and then to be able to share them as presents? Priceless!

  8. Susan says:

    I am a book aunt–I follow a couple of kid lit blogs and also enjoy looking at new books and getting them for the kids in my life. The pleasure of sharing my favorite books is a great cross-generational bond, too.

    Have you had the experience, though, of coming back to a book you remember loving and seeing it totally anew? I tried re-reading Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates recently and found it much more ponderous than I remembered it!

  9. Amelie says:

    Books are such a great gift, Susan! My dad gives each of us (at least) one book for Christmas, and he hand-picks them.
    I’d also love to see your list of childhood favorites.

  10. magpie says:

    Books are the best gifts. Hands down.

  11. Malaina says:

    I think this is a great idea. I would also love to see a list of what you sent. I give books as gifts all the time. I am so looking forward to rereading old favorites and finding new ones with Amelie as she gets older. (I’m enjoying it now–though it’s more remembering books I read to my little sister–but I think I’ll enjoy it even more when she’s a little older.)

  12. Kate says:

    I love to give books as presents. Every year we get each of our nieces and nephews a book and a toy. To me, the books open up a magical world. My childhood favorites ranged from Beverly Cleary to Madeline L’engle. As a young teenager my favorite was “A Ring of Endless Light”. Some of the books will catch them! What a wonderful aunt.

  13. Kate says:

    Ooops…I wanted to add my story. When I was little, I used to sneak and read under my covers with my flashlight. It was just a few years ago that I realized that my batteries never went bad! When I asked my mother I learned that they had been aiding my habit for years.

  14. Books are definitely your friends forever! As much as I love technology and all the accouterments that go with it, I’ve loved reliving my childhood by reading LIttle Miss Techie the books I loved as a kid. We started with Ramona the Pest a few months ago and have made our way through the Ramona series and are now almost through the Henry books. I can’t think of a better way to end my day than snuggling in bed with her at the end of the day and reading part or a whole chapter!

  15. whymommy says:

    Have you all read Mad’s Book Blog? Oh, so good. Check it out here:

  16. NYfriend says:

    Love this post!

    I’m at a bit of a quandary regarding books. My eldest (almost 6!) is voracious about books, and only wants to read each story once. So we have the shelves filled with library books, and it’s not uncommon to have 50 books out from one library system and another 20 from the another county’s library system (we purchase a library card from them since we’re out of county.) With this kind of turn around, I have stopped purchasing books these last months. My dilemma is, is this a good approach? I’m starting to doubt it, and debating how to buy those special ones to have as keepsakes… What is the best way to put our funds to good use? Hmm…

  17. ohgrammy says:

    I’m so glad you chose those books to send the girls! When I was small, the best Christmas gift of all was always the “Sunday-before-Christmas” book, sent by a good friend of my mother’s who lived in the city and had access to a wonderful book store. It was only later that I realized that she often chose prize-winning titles and authors. At the time I just knew that her books opened magical worlds that I had never heard of, by authors like Spyri and Ransome and Seredy. Why did we call them “Sunday-before-Christmas” books? Because my wise single mom knew that a new book in the hands of her daughter a few days before Christmas meant that she was free to finish whatever holiday preparations still remained –without interruption! It was a good tradition. . . and one that I was happy to pass along to you, when you were little!

  18. haay65 says:


  19. JessicaAPISS says:

    The perfect gifts, for sure! I love buying books for our older nieces and nephews too. I usually do old school Newberry Award winners that I readandrereadandread like anything by Madeleine L’Engle, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Trumpeter of Krakow, Katherine Pattersons, Zilpha Keatley Snyders, Lois Lowrys…oh, this is fun! Feeling like rereading right now!

  20. Sara says:

    Would love to see your list of favorite books…or many lists of books 🙂

    We have many books as well. One just can’t have too many books…seriously, that is one thing we think nothing of purchasing. The kids love them!! I love it when I see my daughter reading on her the recliner…and when I start to talk to her, she holds up her index finger as if to say, “Shh, I’m reading, or just a minute, I’m busy.”

    Purchase many books off of Amazon..and of course, Scholastic book orders.

    Books are the best gifts. At least I think so.

  21. Bejewell says:

    I give books to everyone for Christmas, pretty much every year. They may not be the gift cards or crisp bills of cash that are so easy to spend, but hopefully they’ll offer hours of entertainment, thought, learning, and wonder instead. Maybe that’s cheesy? Don’t care.

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