I believe the best gift a grandparent can give a grandchild is the gift of reading. Today my partner and I spent a significant hour in an excellent indie bookstore. I love the glamour and variety of the big bookstores such as our Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million stores, but I was very sorry to see Griffin (on Caroline Street) close and we love to haunt Riverby’s downtown.
But this bookstore today – marvelous. I picked out three novels quickly – we are away from home and I need something to hold in my hand for a little while instead of reading from my iPad. Then I found another one or two I needed, plus a coffee table book of nature photographs of the type I aspire to capture. Then Selby came to the cash register with a few he’d picked out for himself and one for me, a memoir of a woman trying out different kinds of churches. I’m working on my next book, a series of interviews with clergywomen called Voices of Women of the Cloth, and he thought I’d like this one for background reading. He was right. We were almost late to pick up the 90-year-old friend we were taking to lunch and we had to leave because I’d already had my credit card out three times by then.
Some of my greatest memories with my grandchildren are taking them to Jabberwocky in downtown Fredericksburg for their birthdays when they were younger. The book rules evolved through the years. The birthday grandchild got to pick out the same number of books as his or her new age, and any sibling chose one. This worked out well as long as I had just one toddler on the excursion. One year, though, there were two grandchildren with December and January birthdays turning seven, and three siblings along. You can do the math on that, but we set a cap on the number of birthday books at six. That still meant twelve books for the birthday grandies and three more for their siblings, but what the hey, fifteen books are better than no books any day, right? Especially if Nanny is paying. These trips gave me insight into what my grandchildren were enjoying at their various ages.
We also had to define what constitutes a book. I stretched my definition of what I thought a grandchild should be reading – childhood classics -- to include anything with quite a few words. There are all kinds of attractive books in bookstores that don’t have many, if any, words in them. But my Nanny-decree was that they had to contain words – after all, it was my money. I could go with cartoon-type books, though. After all, trading comics was a delight of my own childhood – do kids do that anymore? Does anyone else remember dime comic books?
And I’ll admit, after hearing wheedling for many non-book things in a bookstore, I’d usually give in on the last pick of the day and let them get one non-book “book”. After all, I am a grandma and as GEICO says, that’s what we do. One granddaughter who is truly a reader used to check out her stock of chapter books beforehand and order those to fill in the gaps when it was time for her book selections. Now that’s my kind of bookworm. The book-buying expedition took a funny turn the year my middle-schooler-trying-to-turn-Goth grandson asked the sales clerk at Jabberwocky if they had any Stephen King. She very politely suggested he check across the street at Griffin, and I decided that one had outgrown a children’s bookstore. And since I usually forgot my own rules from year-to-year, we had fun setting the terms of each trip.
Books are precious things. Our fine Rappahannock Regional library system is full of printed treats for all of us. When I used to read to my grandchildren’s classes at Hugh Mercer, before they moved to Lafayette Upper Elementary and were too old to welcome a Nanny reading in their classes anymore, the headquarters children’s librarian always helped me pick out just the right books for language development for the classes. I loved the ones with alliteration and poetry and just grooved on the Llama Mama books. But my favorite was The Seals on the Bus (“go round and round”, of course…).
Now that I’m writing books myself – other than the textbooks I used to write in another life – I am very aware of the effort that goes into producing a book. Some friends in my Water Street Studio Writers’ group author children’s books, giving me an even greater appreciation of that fine skill.
However we choose to do it, grandparents, grandchildren, and books are a trio of love.