When my daughter Molly turned three, her favorite book was Where the Wild Things Are. Every time she would get the book out and open it up, she would say “Bob and Ailene give this to you.” My cousin Ailene and her husband had given the book to the children on a recent visit, and it made me smile every time Molly said it. About half the time her remark would lead to a conversation about Bob and Ailene and how fun their visit was. Molly still knows exactly who gave her the book and when since this book, and many of the kids’ other books that are gifts, have been inscribed with the name and date of the giver.
One of my own favorite books is a word book that I have from my childhood. The book is a little Hallmark thing, cute, but nothing special. What makes it one of my favorite books is the inscription on the first page: “To Meghan on her first birthday, Love Grandma and Grandpa Shagoury, February 1975.″ I would have absolutely no memory of that book or who it was from, but those simple words infuse it with a whole lifetime full of memories and meaning.
It has become part of our reading practice to look at the first page of a book and talk about the book origins. Sometimes the book is an old one of mine, and it leads to stories about when I got the book, if I liked it at the time, who gave it to me, and other “When Mommy was a little girl” stories. Sometimes it’s a book that was a gift to the kids when they were tiny or on a recent birthday or other holiday that evokes those memories. We have some goofy books signed by “The Easter Bunny” that I think will crack them up when they’re older, and can recognize my handwriting. Inscribing the books not only gives the books special meaning and memories, it gets the kids thinking and telling their own life stories. Before we read the story of the book, the kids often jump in, telling about their lives — turning them into active participants and storytellers before the first word of the story is read.
Inscribing books is something we’ve always done in my family, from my grandparents to my parents and now with my kids, and it’s something we pass along with the gifts we give, as well as the ones we receive. Often, we ask someone to sign a book for the kids, if they’re here with us when we open the gift. If it’s not a practice in your family, I’d suggest giving it a try. Inscribe your gift books to your children with a personal note, giving the date and reason for the gift (even just a simple, “This made me think of you…”). If you receive a book from someone else, once the gift is opened, consider asking the gift giver to sign the book for your child. It will give the recipient one more reason to treasure and love that book.
One little tip: if you’re giving the book as a gift, don’t sign it till they open it! If they already have the book, they can’t return a signed duplicate. If they live far away and you won’t be seeing them soon to sign the book, check with the parent first, or think about getting some bookplates. You can write the note on the bookplate, and have them put it in the book once they open it.