Once you’ve been to a few baby showers, you get to know the drill–pick out a gift from the registry, buy a cute (and unnecessarily expensive) card to go with it, then show up at the appointed time ready to watch the mom-to-be open oodles of packages containing bottle sterilizers, diapers and impossibly small socks.
So, when the invitation for my cousin Sarah’s baby shower arrived in the mail, I for the most part ignored the adorable jungle animals smiling up at me and focused solely on gleaning the pertinent info: time, date, location, and stores where the parents had registered. I was almost finished skimming when something near the bottom of the invite caught my eye:
“In lieu of a card, the parents ask that you bring a book inscribed to the new baby.”
A little thrill of excitement shot up my spine.
Being a writer, this idea naturally held way more appeal for me than simply picking out a bib from a list of three pre-chosen patterns. This was a book. Any book we wanted. This was freedom.
As the shower date approached, my mom and I eagerly tossed titles back and forth–books we’d loved as young children, stories that had captured our attention and held it hostage in the best possible way.
Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt
Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
There were so many wonderful choices: funny books, sweet books, educational books. Books with bold colors. Books with flaps to lift and fabrics for chubby little fingers to touch. Even books where the pictures pop up right at you!
Though it seemed impossible to narrow the field, I eventually selected Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. Mom chose Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Then we got to work planning the perfect wording for our inscribed messages to the baby. As is typical of authors, we both wrote several drafts before finally etching our words in permanent ink inside the book covers.
The whole ride to the shower, I was half excitement, half nerves. I couldn’t wait to see what books the other guests had chosen, but at the same time, I was a little worried, too. What if the baby got not one but five copies of Guess How Much I Love You? After all, an inscribed book is a nonreturnable one. Mom pointed out that with young children, having extra copies of a favorite story is a good thing–pages get ripped, flaps get torn off, corners get chewed on. I knew she was right…but still, I fretted. Giving a duplicate book seemed like showing up to prom and noticing someone else wearing the same exact black spaghetti strap dress as mine.
As soon as the gift portion of the shower got underway, however, I quickly saw that my concern was for naught. With every new gift my cousin opened, there came a different book title. There was indeed a hungry caterpillar, and a bunny in need of patting. But there were also books about tractors, bears, princesses, giraffes, elephants and every other thing you could imagine.
I actually got a little teary, realizing that we’d all chosen different books based on the different things that had touched us and shaped us throughout our lives. We’d all been moved by reading–not in the same way, but in a hundred different ways, and that just made it all the more beautiful.
In my case, I grew up surrounded by books. With two teachers for parents, it couldn’t have been any other way. As a child, I sat curled in the silence of our basement for hours, aching at the bittersweet ending of Princess by Carolyn Lane, a tale about two cats–one tame, one feral. My bathwater went from toasty to frigid without me even noticing as I lost myself in the adventures of Alec Ramsay and his magnificent Black Stallion. My breath steamed the windows of our Jeep as I devoured Dick King-Smith’s Babe: The Gallant Pig start-to-finish on a rainy afternoon. During a late-night power outage, I sat huddled in the bathroom, candlelight and a book called The Great Green Apple War by Barbara Klimowicz the only two things keeping my gnawing fear of the dark at bay. For months when I was a young teen, I actually slept with a dog-eared copy of Geary Gravel’s novelization of Hook under my pillow, so in love with the story of a grown up Peter Pan that I felt certain I’d never go a day of my life without rereading at least a few of its pages.
And that’s just a small sampling of my childhood. My journey as a budding young reader.
Gazing down at all of the baby’s new acquisitions, I knew I was looking at the start of a brand new adventure. A new life to be molded and inspired, a new imagination to be kindled–maybe by one of the books given this very day.
Didn’t matter if it was my book, or one about a kitten, or one about a train. Something would start that fire, ignite that passion for reading. And, once lit, this little girl’s life would never be the same.
Good luck getting all that from an overpriced greeting card.