Dear Book Maven:
My policy towards children’s gifts has always been bibliocentric. Not only do I love books, not only was I a bookish child, but I believe that having their own small libraries teaches small people a lot about information, education, and possession. This self-styled policy also allows me to simplify my shopping for holidays and other occasions and to support bookstores.
However, my policy recently backfired when I visited family and brought my younger relatives each a belated-birthday package of books. I went to my local independent children’s bookstore and with the bookseller’s help, selected three volumes for each child commensurate with that child’s age and interests, then had the books festively wrapped.
The little rugrats’ eyes popped with glee when they saw the festive wrapping, but once they’d torn it open, all smiles ceased. The youngest girl walked over to me and leaned in as if to express a confidence. “I don’t like books,” she hissed. (May I mention, dear Maven, that these children belong to an upper-class family with parents who have multiple advanced degrees? They do not live in a rural outpost in which books are unknown.) Her parents said nothing, just beamed
Needless to say, I was shocked and unsettled. How could any child dislike books?
At A Literary Loss
My dear L.L.,
Your Maven apologizes for the slight delay in answering your question, as reading it forced her to spend several days on her fainting couch, contemplating both tempora and mores. Why, in her day, any child so fortunate as to receive an orange in the toe of her Saturnalia stocking would have been counted blessed by the coven…but I digress.
It’s truly sad that children don’t always cherish books, as gifts or otherwise. Your Maven personally (very, very personally) knows of one tiny maiden who was provided with a perfectly stocked, shelved and coordinated bookcase in her room. That little girl’s first action upon realizing all the books belonged to her? Naturally. She flung them, one at a time, behind her, until the floor of her room was littered with cracked spines and wrinkled pages. Kids will be kids. They don’t always appreciate what they have or what they are given.
The real dilemma in your letter has less to do with that de-LIGHT-ful child relative of yours and more with her parents. (Who knows? Despite their many degrees, they, too, may hate books.) Any gift to your child calls for parental reinforcement of our merest basic manners. If the child says nothing, the prompt is “What do you say, dear?” (Please note this book of same title.) If the child says “I don’t like books,” the prompt is “Fenella Phyllidia, that’s neither here nor there. Please thank your Aunty Ogre for your present.” If the child says “I will not!,” the prompt is “That’s enough. You may go to your room.” At which point all adults in the room may obscure any awkwardness that remains by gathering ’round the cocktail tray.
Goodness! Look where Your Maven has found herself–right in front of the martini pitcher.
Until next time,
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