Monday, June 25, 2012

The Bookgiver by e. l. kaufman


Maybe it happens to all writers eventually—suddenly you realize that you’re the “book giver.” I think it happened to me once I started going to birthday parties in elementary school—I remember wrapping lots of Baby-Sitters Club books. And I still gift books more often than not. Birthdays? A book. Probably not a BSC book anymore. Hanukkah? A book. Possibly eight. I can’t help it—I love books and I want everyone to read my favorites. If I could buy Rainer Maria Rilke’s Stories of God in bulk, I would.

I have a one-year-old niece, Maya, and I’m starting her out young towards a life of bookshelves. Here’s one shelf that I’ve stocked with some of my childhood favorites:

1.   Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw. I remember reading this book with my sister, before I could even read. I’d help her turn the pages and chime in on the repeating refrain, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always…” Of particular entertainment to my child self was the little boy on the cover, gleefully flushing a watch down the toilet. Actually, it’s still funny now—some things never get old, I guess.

2.   Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola. I’ll confess that as a little kid, I didn’t really understand this book. Apparently my mother did not use it as a tool to “introduce children to the concept of death” but rather read it with me because of the wonderful illustrations and beautiful text. I loved Tommy and his grandmother being strapped to their chairs when they ate. Reading it as an adult, it strikes me as much sadder than I ever picked up on—when I give this book to children, I warn their parents to read it first. Nothing worse than realizing, in mid-sentence while reading aloud, that you’ve just killed off Nana.

3.   The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. This is a classic that everyone loves. And now a major motion picture! As a child, I liked the “everyone, everyone, everyone, needs!” The cotton-candy colored tufted truffula trees also held a sugary, silky, sparkly fascination for me. I loved the little Lorax too—so angry! so passionate! I thought this book would be a particularly good choice for Maya, who, growing up as my sister’s child, is bound to be concerned about animals and the environment.

4.   The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson. Is there anything more enchanting than being able to truly believe that someday your beloved toys will come to life and be real? No. (There’s a reason that Toy Story is so successful.) I was the type of child who talked to all of her stuffed animals, who cried when seams ripped or fur rubbed off. The book comforted me. Recently, I had the privilege of reading an excerpt from this book in my best friend’s wedding, and even as adults, many of the guests described the book as “magical” and “moving.” And I still like to think that DD—my beloved doll—is real.

As Maya gets older I plan on continuing to fill her bookshelves with the books that I loved as a kid—Shel Silverstein’s poetry, Noel Streatfeild’s art-centered adventures, Natalie Babbitt’s comic short stories, Beatrice Potter’s whimsical collection—and still love today. 
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e. l. kaufman earned her BFA from Emerson College and is currently working towards her MFA at Lesley University. She writes subversive, experimental stories featuring vivid characters exploring feelings of outsiderness, the loss of home, and living on the verge.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! I used to manage a print shop and each year at Christmas I gave every member of the customer service dept a book. The titles included: Tacky The Penguin, The Three Questions, Giraffes Can't Dance, and Alexander and the Terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. I believe there are important lessons on stress relief, service and teamwork in all of these. :)

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