In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Dear Annie,

When Eleanor was born, the first of her generation in our extended family, I decided to become The Aunt Who Gives Only Books, to her and to any sibling (hello, Isabel!) or cousin (another coming soon :) to follow.   It didn't exactly start with Eleanor -- we've mentioned a few books I gave you over the years.  Part of the fun of giving books over decades is being able to grow with the recipient.  Starting out with board books, ending up with adult novels (wasn't The Golden Notebook in there somewhere?).

I've spent some of this evening going through the books I'll be bringing to your daughters this weekend.  I had to re-read a few -- can't resist.  Even though I spend a good deal of my days recommending books for adults to give to children, I can end up tied in knots when choosing my own offerings.  There's the Venn diagram of overlapping circles: books I love/books about things I think you love.  So one of the grand experiments here  will be one I've already warned you about:
The Very Kind Rich Lady and her One Hundred Dogs
by Chinlun Lee, on a topic we all know Isabel loves.  The book names all 100 dogs: the first time with a label under each picture, the second time (!) as a string of names being called.  Can Isabel do 200 woofs?  We shall see...  Am also bringing monkeys, wombats (fiction & non-fiction), bunnies, gods, and a few humans.

I woke up this morning to find the current issue (June 9) of The New York Review of Books left open for me to an essay by Michael Chabon on The Phantom Tollbooth -- a book you and I will blog about here someday.  I bring this up not to discuss the Norton Juster classic, but to relay Chabon's thoughts on the gift of a book:
The book appeared in my life as mysteriously as the titular tollbooth itself, brought to our house one night as a gift for me by some old friend of my father’s whom I had never met before, and never saw again. Maybe all wondrous books appear in our lives the way Milo’s tollbooth appears, an inexplicable gift, cast up by some curious chance that comes to feel, after we have finished and fallen in love with the book, like the workings of a secret purpose. Of all the enchantments of beloved books the most mysterious—the most phantasmal—is the way they always seem to come our way precisely when we need them.
  May we all be the agent of a secret purpose at some point in a child's life.



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