I cannot imagine a Christmas without books. When I was little we had a beautifully illustrated book of Christmas legends and a collection of stories titled Told under the Christmas Tree. We read from them daily just as we opened a door on the Advent calendar that counted down to Christmas.
Among the most precious books in my library are those I received as gifts. Some carry inscriptions from my dear grandmother and are well-worn from repeated readings. On the Banks of Plum Creek is especially meaningful because my family moved from Minneapolis to New Jersey in the middle of the school year, before my teacher had finished reading the book to my class. We spent that Christmas between homes with grandparents in the Chicago area. Imagine my delight on unwrapping my very own copy of the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book that takes place in Minnesota!
For a number of years I was a bookseller in an independent bookstore in Vermont. Christmas was a very special time in the store. We helped parents and grandparents choose books as gifts for the children in their lives – Beatrix Potter’s classics, Pat the Bunny, the newest from Brian Jacques or Chris Van Allsburg. Lucky children to receive such gifts of beauty and the imagination!
What about those children without books in their homes? Children’s booksellers became very excited when we heard Mary Gay Shipley from That Bookstore in Blytheville (AR) talk about a Book Angel project her store created to put books into those young hands. Staff members cut out angel shapes and hung them on a tree, each with a child’s first name, age, and interests. Customers could select a tag and purchase a book for the child. Names came from schools and social agencies in the area. Store employees would then wrap the books, attaching the angels as gift tags. The organizations then distributed the books.
How could we implement that project where we worked? We did not have time to prepare angels for display. Peter Workman, of Workman Press, became our Santa Claus. His business provided us with die-cut angel tags. Did that ever get us going!
At the Northshire Bookstore, where I worked, local schools gave us children’s names. We decorated a tree with the angels and promoted the program to our customers. We even set jars for change at the registers for donations. What fun we had helping customers select books! The project was successful and continues today. Locally, Anderson’s Bookshop (http://www.andersonsbookshop.com/book-angels) in Naperville and Downers Grove expects to give books to 2000 children through the Book Angel project this year.
Another way to put books into the hands of young readers is through A Book on Every Bed. Amy Dickinson has promoted this through her “Ask Amy” column. Wrap a book and leave on your child’s bed late on Christmas Eve or another winter holiday. When your child wakes, there’s a gift to open immediately (and, who knows, your child may stay in bed a little while longer!). If there are no children at your house, you can donate to this cause through the Family Reading Partnership website. http://www.familyreading.org/bookOnEveryBed.htm. Miss Wendy