By Ana Veciana-Suarez, Tribune Media Services
3:30 PM EDT, September 27, 2013
The other day, President Barack Obama visited a Virginia bookstore to do some Christmas shopping. Accompanied by his daughters and a retinue of Secret Service agents, he bought 15 children's books as gifts for family members.
The excursion was dutifully recorded by the media as part of Small Business Saturday, a campaign to encourage shopping at neighborhood stores on Thanksgiving weekend. Seems to me, though, that it did something more important: It focused attention on one of the most praiseworthy of presents, the gift of reading.
A book, be it digital or paper, is a forever delight, an endless source of entertainment and information, a gift that opens doors and nurtures memories. Few things give me as much pleasure, as much hope, as spending an evening with a good yarn.
That's why I, too, give books for the holidays. Lots of books. Books I'd like to read and books I've already read and want to share. Books that can change someone's way of thinking or, at the very least, prompt thoughtful deliberation.
My tradition of holiday book-giving began long ago, when my children were young and I was intent on passing on a reading habit that had provided solace and adventure to a young girl who needed both. Every year on Jan. 6, the feast of Epiphany, when the biblical Magi were said to have visited the baby Jesus, Los Reyes Magos -- the three kings -- dropped off a book for each of my five children.
The ritual, if truth be told, was not met with overwhelming appreciation at first. The kids would have preferred "stuff" -- stuff that would soon have been abandoned at the bottom of the toy chest.
Nevertheless, I persisted, not only in my gift-giving but in the ritual of bedtime reading. Over time, the picture books became chapter books and the chapter books became tomes that reflected their varied and increasingly grown-up interests. One year, I gave a son "Freakonomics"; another time, my daughter received "Memoirs of a Geisha."
Yet it's the early books I remember best, the books that tug at the heartstrings, and some continue to grace my bookshelves. Oh-these-many years later, my voice still catches on the refrain of "Love You Forever," and I can't help but smile when I recite, "A red dog on a blue tree. A blue dog on a red tree. A green dog on a yellow tree," from my oldest son's all-time favorite, "Go, Dog, Go!"
If there is anything I miss about having young children under foot, it's the tender intimacy of bedtime reading, when, for an inviolable and miraculous hour, the strife and struggle of daily life ceased and the kids snuggled on my lap even as they became way too big for such things.
I joke with shoe-loving friends that a good novel is better than a pair of Jimmy Choos. And so, when my two grand-nieces and new granddaughter were born this fall, I arrived at the hospital each time carrying a gift bag heavy with promise. Beneath the colored tissue, between the pages of that childhood classic "Goodnight Moon," I offered them a world of enchantment.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)herald.com.)
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