In January one of my oldest friends gave birth to her first child, a beautiful daughter Matilda. Lisa and her husband live in Perth Australia having emigrated just over a year earlier. As her pregnancy progressed pictures of beautiful baby clothes and toys were posted on Facebook with messages of thanks to the friends and family back home in the UK. It was clear, as the first grandchild to both sets of grandparents; this little girl was going to want for nothing.
When it comes to present buying I’d like to think people consider me thoughtful, not that the above presents weren’t thoughtful, but I didn’t want to walk into MotherCare and go for the cutest outfit I could find, or the squeakiest toy, whilst lovely gifts they are things Matilda will either grow out of, or if she is anything like I was as a child probably break them.
I got to thinking, what were some of the greatest gifts I received as a child, what has made the journey from my childhood home, to my Uni days in Bristol, my graduate days in Oxford and my professional life in London. As I looked around my rather small flat the answer rang out loud and clear. My books and my love of reading. I don’t know who gave me my first book, I’d ask my dad but I know he’d have no idea. My love of reading definitely came from both parents, I can remember from a small age seeing them both engrossed in books and wanting to experience whatever it was they were enjoying.
As I reminisce about my childhood I can see the important role books played. Saturdays were spent in the children’s library in Wigan soaking up as much as I could until I begged my mum to let me join the adult library to experience more challenging books. At school I was a librarian, the best thing being I use to just borrow books without formally checking them out meaning I could keep hold of them for as long as I liked, you also got to spend break periods and lunch times in the library whilst others were outside in the cold! On leaving my high school I did only little library book amnesty and took back the many books that adorned my shelves with a “Property of St Edmund Arrowsmith RC High School” stamped in the front cover.
Having identified books and my love of them as a key childhood gift the next decision was what book to buy Matilda. I knew she wouldn’t be able to read them yet, but I also knew Lisa would get great pleasure out of sitting and reading to her daughter, no doubt doing voices for the characters and showing her any illustrations. So, what to go for? The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish, Goodnight Moon? All very good books but I wanted to give Matilda something greater than just a book I wanted to give her the starting ticket to a journey of adventure and discovery, I wanted to give her my love of books.
In the end I went for a box set of Winnie the Pooh – not only a classic but a fun filled book about friendships and challenges and growing up. I thought it was perfect. The fact that it had been one of Lisa’s childhood favourites only added to the perfection. It seemed right in giving Matilda her first real book to write a message in the front cover. I searched for quotes about what reading can bring to your life and found two. One went in the book, one well I think I’ll save it for when she’s a little older.
In the book…
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go” ― Dr Seuss
The one for later…
“If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!” ― John Waters