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Sharon Brody: In our family, books dominate every holiday. If that isn't you, then you're doing it wrong! (Sharon Brody)

Ah, December. When we all join hands and leap into the lava pit that is Stuff ‘n’ Things. Gift-wrapping services available, just beyond the burning ring of fire.

This isn’t really my season.

And since I don’t opt into the frenzy, I have more time to tell everybody else that they’re doing it wrong.

I’ve noticed a trend or two in my decades of paying more attention to bashing the behavior of others than to improving my own.

A whole lot of folks don’t put their money where they claim their values are.

I want to shout this from the rooftops: Books are best! They open doors you never even knew existed! Bring your kids to the library all year round, and for the grand finale every holiday season, to the degree that you can swing it, buy them books, books, and a few more books!

In certain circles, grownups talk up one side and down the other about the importance of books in the lives of children. But then, at the big year-end consumerism bender, do these very people give children books? Not often, or not abundantly. What they tend to give children, often and in abundance, are plastic contraptions, electronic devices, and noisy whatsits.

I’ve got nothing against any of those non-book gifts. I’ve bestowed my share. My kids have enjoyed their share. I’ve hidden the batteries to more than my share. Everything in moderation.

But I wonder what it says about our principles, this contrast between the loudly-proclaimed exaltation of the written word and the written-word-free piles ensconced in bows and ribbons.

And children do have a knack for noticing when we talk one game but play another.

Adults urge: “Read, read, read!” Then, at the big-time gift-o-rama, when parents make a show of trying to delight the youngsters, books tend to be an afterthought.

At this time of year as the spotlight shines most brightly on those how-to-make-‘em-happy priorities, reading typically stays in the shadows. Ad budgets for this season’s must-haves carry the day. It’s a missed opportunity for parents and their ilk to model the beliefs they espouse, to celebrate the enduring beauty and joy and fun and vitality and transcendence and riches and thrills of words and pictures on a page.

Of course, there are plenty of parents who don’t particularly care about books. There also are plenty of families for whom the cost makes holiday presents out of reach, period. Those are stories for another curmudgeon to tackle. My focus involves people who say they want to raise readers, and who have the resources to buy books for holiday gifts, but don’t.

Allow me to interject at this juncture that I understand that the purchasing decisions of others are none of my beeswax.

Families do what they do, and more power to them.

But during the high-profile commercial extravaganza that is December, we have a chance to show kids that we believe books matter — that books are exciting and indelible and deserving of a perch on the best-presents-ever award podium.

As I look back on my parenting adventures, I realize that books dominated every holiday. (Okay, once or twice I mixed in some educational place mats).

You could accuse me of lacking range, and you’d be absolutely right.

Correlation does not imply causation; it could be my kids were simply pre-wired this way and my social engineering made no difference. And perhaps one day soon they will inform me that they used to wish that I would change it up sometimes fergawdsake.

But I’ll tell you what — my sons grew up as devoted readers, with ridiculously long attention spans, vivid imaginations, a thirst for details, and gusto for getting lost in another world. Most of our family’s in-jokes and catch phrases and special references — those bonds that we treasure our whole lives — have come from our favorite books.

So even though I know I am an insufferable and condescending snob to say this, I just can’t help it: I hate to think that anyone else could be missing what’s brought us so much bliss.

I want to shout this from the rooftops: Books are best! They open doors you never even knew existed! Bring your kids to the library all year round, and for the grand finale every holiday season, to the degree that you can swing it, buy them books, books, and a few more books!

Or, don’t. Your choice. I hear Stuff-‘n’-Things is having a Holiday Sales Event, over at the mall, right past the food court at the infernal abyss.

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Tags: Books, Family

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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  • Lizzie

    Well, I for one am more curmudgeonly — and I had to back up to the essay and look up how to spell that word — than is Ms. Brody. For to the best of my knowledge and remembrance I never allowed or selected anything — books or toys — though maybe music — with the Disney label on it for our children. Yes, even though some of you will no doubt howl “foul” at this statement and my lack of literature appreciation, I just have to say it for the world to see.

    While I disagree with some — but not all — of Ms. B’s choices, she is spot on about the value of having good — and of course “good” is a totally judgmental word in this case — books around for reading to children and for then to enjoy reading on their own.

  • sam79

    Sharon Brody is an inimitable treasure, however “curmudgeonly” she may seem. I have a google alert set for her name so I don’t miss one of her pieces here. More please!!

    • Pam

      Thanks Sharon Brody for sharing your beautifully crafted words and heartfelt sentiments with all of us. It’s always a joy to read your passionate pieces which you somehow manage to make funny too. You keep us all on our toes and make us analyze our actions.

  • Meghna Chakrabarti

    Mine’s a two-year-old, so here are our current favorites (which, yes, change on a weekly basis):

    1) “The Adventures of Lowly Worm”, Richard Scarry
    2) “Oh! The Places You’ll Go”, Dr. Seuss
    3) “The Adventures of Rupert Bear”, Alfred Bestall
    4) “Happy to be Nappy”, Bell Hooks
    5) “The Robot Book”, Heather Brown
    6) “The Story of Ferdinand”, Munro Leaf
    7) “Guess How Much I Love You”, Anita Jeram, Sam McBratney
    8) “Gossie”, Oliver Dunrea
    9) “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, or The Roly Poly Pudding”, Beatrix Potter
    10) “Jamberry”, Bruce Degan

    • Denise Falbo

      Richard Scarry is a gem!

  • Ann Silver

    Books! Ah, yes we love them. Partly because, well we just do, and partly because our Auntie Ellie is a librarian and gifted them to us always. Favorites included any Dr. Seuss(we still have them all), any by Eric Carle,Goodnight Moon, Charlotte’s Web, The Borrower’s, Harry Potter, and way to many others to list. Still have many of them, saving for what, the grandkids????

  • Gertie

    When one of our sons was about seven, he was stretched out on the living room floor reading a small orange-colored book about Abraham Lincoln. He looked up and said “oh, I was thinking I was back in a log cabin.” Such are the power of words to transport you to places, to knowledge of people, and to just plain knowledge for knowledge sake.

  • terwillig.girl

    I almost always give books as gifts for kids. But as for my own kids, they get books all the time, all year round. Our house is overflowing with books. They are part of everyday life. And I assume for other families who are big into reading it’s the same. If your family is really into reading, then books shouldn’t be a big deal. When it comes time for presents for my kids, we give them things that are big deal, not everyday gifts, like a bike, or a play kitchen, etc.

  • But hey.

    I am an author and I give picture books often to young kids, including my own, because they are used and used and loved and ignored and then used some more. But I don’t buy as many chapter books as gifts (or for myself), because they are usually read only once (perhaps 2 or 3 times if we pass them along) and we are regulars at the public library. I don’t think this sends a message that books are unimportant, I think it reflects a belief in careful spending. This year my daughter wants a scooter and a scooter I shall get her. We can ride it to the library!

  • Sheri

    I have read every one of Sharon’s essays and they are all keepers, so keep em coming WBUR!

  • Jenney

    I couldn’t agree more! We buy books for every holiday and birthday… for our own kids, and friends and relatives!

  • http://www.facebook.com/michele.delfino.56 Michele Delfino

    “Let’s Read!” said 3 year old Bellatrix, waving her arms excitedly…this is in our family’s vocabulary/memory bank. My kids still love to read (9 and 7 now) and we give lots of books all year round. Every spare minute they have, they read or make things. As parents we have two goalsfor them: one, be kind and two, be curious. Books help us to teach them both. Actually, I have just been called away to read to them before bed. It’s like takeout for them — they can read on their own, but sometimes it’s nice when you mix it up a little bit. Maybe an intern could compile these book suggestions? I plan to come back with pen and paper later to wite down all the great suggestions. I would also add anything by Grace Lin, Garth Nix and the D’Aulaire biography books (Abe Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, et al).

    • Denise Falbo

      The Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix is great – but quite dark and suitable for older kids, I think.

  • tsomo

    My 10 year old is an avid reader. She goes into mourning when she finishes one book, and doesn’t have another ready to go. However, the only books we buy are from the annual Scholastic book fair. Otherwise it’s the public library, or I would go broke keeping my child in books! And how she loves a library! For Christmas, it’s a few toys.

  • katie

    I agree Books Are Best!!

    My most favorite memories are being read to by my grade school teachers and librarian. Charlotte’s Web, James and the Giant Peach, Will Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Little Women. I loved them all and they certainly did transport me to other worlds.

    Now I LOVE reading Dr. Seuss to my niece and nephew – so much fun to plow through the rhymes.

  • Diane Benatar

    At the age of pre-2, or so, my daughter used to ‘read’ when she had spare time. She would get her books out of the varied, tacky plastic book holders that we got from the cat in the hat club, the luv’s diaper reading club, the Mickey Mouse book club, etc, etc. She would sit for MANY MANY minutes and turn all the pages and ‘read’ to her tiger. That would hold her attention even longer than barney or big bird! While we lived abroad, some of our favorite days were when we’d walk down our local high street and stop at the green grocer’s, the bakery, the candy store, and the library.

    Some of our favorite books are boring to list since they are everyone’s favorites, but that’s why they are classics. I could never get through I’ll Love You Forever without crying, and still fall apart in the Friends episode when Joey reads it to Ross’s baby. Goodnight Moon, various Sendak, all Seuss, all E.B. White, all Alcott, all Rowling, and on goes the list. This is how my children’s imaginations got fired up and my how memories keep going.

  • Susanna

    As always, Sharon Brody gets it right in content and tone, with fun, snarky humor as well! I always look forward to reading what she has to say, no matter what the topic. Hope to see more!

  • http://www.facebook.com/armando.gespacho Armando Gespacho

    I agree with the idea that books are best but I’m not so sure I agree with your thesis Sharon. My kids also are voracous readers. They like to hang out in the local Barnes & Noble fergawdsake. To my mind, books are an everyday necessity like air food and water – to be provided constantly for healthy growth. Therefore, gifts for special events and holidays need not be of the reading variety.

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