We have long espoused the value of reading books to infants and toddlers. Even in the womb, the rhythm and flow of words from the mother or other reader seems to calm and possibly inspire contentment for the baby. While there are numerous other factors in producing healthy, vibrant, book-loving children, reading to them holds enormous value. As we move away from hard print and into a digital age, bound books are sometimes lost. They are still present on electronic devices, but they are not physically present in the age-old turning-of-the-pages way. Reading is eyes to mind as we zip across the page, but it is also the touch of a quality interior, the slide of the fingertip as the next image is revealed, the smell of print, and for babies, the taste of paper, book jacket, and cover.

Research indicates that reading books is powerful, but actually possessing them is even more important. Successful reading often indicates a home library of books. I suppose this encompasses the visual presence, the lined march across shelves, the colorful spines, the engaging font and style of words, and above all the draw of illustrations. Whether on the cover as in books for adults or within as in children’s books, pictures ignite the imagination, entice the reader to read, and also guide reading. When a child knows words, s/he reads them; when the child is unsure, the pictures serve as reminders to pique memory and interpretation. My oldest son read in such a manner. He had favorite books that we read frequently and by five he self-read, not really “reading” in the true sense but by utilizing memorization from previous rounds and the illustrations in the book, he could “read” the story orally. “Pretend read”, I called it, and it was lovely.

The holidays are here and we are buying gifts like mad. The Internet has taken on a wild life of its own as a click or two bundles packets and packages to speed to our doors. Some claim it is the cyber sales that attract them, but I think it also involves the ease and simplicity of the venture. The biggest problem, of course, is that items sometimes arrive in odd colors, strange sizes, and weird designs. They may be in three pieces instead of one, or come with 99 correct parts and the hundredth one missing from the box. Assembly keeps parents up long past midnight on Christmas Eve to make morning delight ring through the home. And in that delight paper and ribbons and a miscellany of gifts surround the tree and clutter every cranny. Do I have a suggestion to help alleviate this chaos? Books!

Books fit the Santa list perfectly. No worry of size or color, no anxiety with style or design. Local stores have a nice selection and of course, for those who love the Internet, there are thousands of additional choices. Recommendations abound if uncertainty of a title reigns and many offerings allow you to flip through a few pages to scan the rhyme and reasoning of the contents. The clicks easily flow and soon the parcel will land on the doorstep. While there is still sorting and wrapping in store, putting bikes and train sets together is non-existent. No worry about batteries or charging in advance as books require none of this action. They just need the buyer to run a hand over the cover, add a smile of appreciation and a spin through a couple of pages, and the tender enfolding of paper and bows.

Better yet as dinner simmers and roasts, quiet murmurs overtake the scene as Grandpa reads a new mystery, Grandma is engrossed in the latest romance, and Mom and Dad take turns reading aloud about bears and castles, magic and realism, enriching the air with words. Books stack the floor, surround the gathering today and will last a lifetime. Although pages may take on syrup and a tear or a tear, they are possessions of immeasurable benefit to be shared and cherished forever. And if they become old and tired, there are book exchanges available – no trip to the landfill for a good read.

The idea of reading incites brainwaves and begs the reader to learn and understand more. Soon readers discover that books for holidays and birthdays are inadequate for fulfilling the thirst for knowledge. Fortunately, the public library is open and welcoming. I never met a librarian who did not adore books of every shape, size, and genre. A librarian eagerly guides guests through the mounds and arrays to locate the just the right fix. Further, s/he will order more from inter-library loan or add the tome to the library collection. Reading groups, story time, and author visits are just a few of the other wonderful treasures of a library.

There is still time to accomplish your book-giving goal. While the jumble of gifts will take on a new flavor, the fervor of chattering words and oral exchanges will add to the excitement of reading for years to come. Reading is a true, on-going, ever-giving gift. You cannot go wrong with a book!

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