One of the most exciting things about becoming a mom was buying all the books.
Seriously! Other people might concentrate on things like onesies, baby wipes, bouncers and cribs. I did enjoy putting all of that together—my daughter’s nursery is outer space-themed, because I’m just that predictable. For me, though, good parenting also involved making sure that my daughter had the proper reading material.
Like I said. I’m predictable.
My parents did this for me. They made sure I was set up, and then kept giving me books and taking me to libraries when I showed interest in reading. The first book on I loved was The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. This small fable concerns a small engine that is tasked with a massive job: getting the toys and gifts over the hill for the children on the other side, a job that is usually only tasked to the biggest and strongest engines. Apparently, I made my parents read this three times a night, every night, for years and years. I must have identified somehow with that little engine, huffing and puffing “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
I think all children identify with the engine, and that’s why this story works so well, even after half a decade. Children are so small in a big, big world that they don’t always understand, and need encouragement that they can do big things: get over that mountain, climb those heights.
Second on the list is The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. I loved this book as a kid, and I’m delighted to find out that I love it just as much as an adult. Princess Elizabeth’s castle burns down and her fiance Ronald is carried off by a dragon, so she goes on a quest to rescue him. The ending is the very first twist ending I ever experienced, and it definitely had an effect on how I’d view boys in my class later on—I went in with my eyes open, let’s just say!
What I love about this book is how it subverts expectations and how the main character defeats the dragon not by fighting it but by outsmarting it. And she does it all with swagger, wearing a paper bag, under considerable stress and strain. Princess Elizabeth was one of my very first fictional role models, and I’m delighted to offer that experience to my daughter, too.
Third on the list was Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. Baby Harold goes on a wild, wonderful journey to beautiful and dangerous worlds—all created by the purple crayon he carries! This was my introduction to imagination and all the beautiful places it can take a person. My parents read it to me very early on, and I remember being frustrated in nursery school that my own purple crayons weren’t taking me to the ocean or the jungle or on a sailboat. (I often took things literally as a little kid.)
Harold and the Purple Crayon is an important book, because kids must be allowed to explore to the very limits of what their minds can hold—they have to feel the highs and lows of life to grow and thrive. Books can help kids explore their feelings, work with their emotions, and grow in imagination and knowledge. And they must be taken seriously by adults when doing this.
And this is why I give books at baby showers, for kids’ birthdays, and just in general: books, in the long run, are the most important gift you can give a child. The messages imparted in the right book for the right child at the right time are carried beyond that bedtime, beyond that afternoon, beyond that constant cry of “read it again!” Books are crucial. Libraries are pivotal.
Give a child a book, and you give them the world.