Books are a gift. Opening a new book and allowing yourself to be absorbed into its pages can take you to worlds you never imagined. Different places and times. Magical, far-off destinations. Treasure hunts. Ship wrecks. Tales of friendship and love. New customs, cultures, and civilizations. A view into language, dress, and social mores of the past.
Books have always been a part of my life. As a young girl, I loved mysteries. I remember asking for and receiving so many of the old Nancy Drew hardback books as gifts. My friends would come over, and we would hunt for hidden clues in the dark, unfinished basement of our older home. A true gift. Great friendships, great memories, and a genuine curiosity and appreciation for problem-solving and deduction that have been important skills for me throughout my life.
Throughout my schooling, I was fortunate enough to be exposed to many of the greats – leaders of their times: Alcott, Austen, the Brontes, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Dickens, Joyce, Hawthorne, Crane, Orwell, Nietzsche, Camus, Shakespeare, Longfellow, Thoreau, Frost, Poe… if forced to list them all, I still would come up short. I remember the countless discussions and essays written on the analyses of these texts, of course. Another gift, as I learned so much about writing, grammar, and true art. I learned to appreciate the undeniable beauty and imagery in the written word. I learned to think philosophically, and challenge the status quo.
I remember taking books on long car rides, and imagining the worlds in which the characters lived, placing myself there. I remember just allowing myself to be in the moment, reading. A few moments (or, in some cases, hours) of solace that were just for me. What a gift – to be able to lose yourself in another world, escaping the chaos of reality, even if only for a short time.
With such broad exposure to and appreciation for different genres, authors, and stories, it’s no wonder, then, that all these years later, I find myself overseeing a publishing house. I am privileged to be able to bestow the GIFT of stories on children, families, educators, counselors, and youth-serving professionals all over the world! At Boys Town Press, every penny above our operating costs goes back into the care of at-risk children and families – a mission that I am proud to serve.
What makes these books even more special is that they teach life skills. Experts continue to tell us that reading to and reading with our children is one of the best gifts we can offer them, affecting language development and attention span; developing creativity and positive relationships; and can be a strong predictor of academic success (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017; Mendelsohn et al, Pediatrics journal, April 2018).
What better way to start your child on the path to success than to read to and with him or her – especially a book that teaches social skills?
Years later, and much to my great joy, our children are avid readers. Our 13-year-old daughter, especially, follows in my footsteps by having favorite books that she reads and re-reads. She fully engulfs herself in the books, feeling the joys, living the adventures, and experiencing pain and loss with her favorite characters. Getting involved in various book series that she loves has been a sincere gift for me. These books help me understand her better, and allow us to relate in ways that others may not understand. Already, I have special memories of sitting with her, each of us reading a book from the same series, joking about passages or comments or characters. At times we spontaneously reminisce about important plot points or favorite quotes from these book series.
I was reminded of all of this recently when she received a boxed set of one of her favorite book series as a gift. She opened it right away, fanned the pages and said, “Ahhh, there’s nothing better than the smell of a new book.” She looked at it closely, examining each corner, the spine, the cover. I asked her what she was doing and she said, “I’m just looking at it and appreciating it fully, because it will never be this brand new again. The spine will bend, the pages will wear, and the smell will go away. But it’s so worth it.”
I stopped what I was doing and sat next to her on the couch. I took out one of the other books from the set. I looked closely at the cover, the corners, the spine, and – finally – fanned the pages to get that new book smell. I was instantly transported back in time.
I sat next to her, and started reading.
After a short time, I turned to her and said, “I forgot how much I liked this series. What a great gift you have here!”
“The best gift,” she replied.
And she’s right. The best gifts are those that keep on giving…