Today is not only this month’s Ask A Wench, it’s also Nicola’s birthday—and since my July 23 post fell on Pat’s birthday, I’ve got books and birthdays all muddled up in a lovely way in my mind now, so instead of doing our usual thing and choosing a question from the ones you’ve asked us, I thought I’d ask my fellow Wenches: What were the best books you remember receiving as birthday presents?
For me, there would be too many to list here—my birthdays and my Christmases all brought those recognizable rectangular wrapped gifts that meant I’d be lost to my family for the next few days, tunnelled into my bedcovers, coming out only for food now and then. Every book my family gave—and gives—me as a present comes complete with an inscription on the flyleaf, marking the occasion and the date, to help preserve the memory.
The first grown-up hardcover book I remember getting for my birthday was a brand-new edition of Touch Not the Cat by my favourite author, Mary Stewart. I was twelve. I still remember opening that present, and taking that book to my room, and getting swept up in that story, in the darkness of that winter evening—staying in that world all through the next day, until I had turned the final page. It’s still one of my favourite books.
What makes it extra special for me, though, is what makes all the books that I received as presents from my parents and my sister special—that inscription on the inner flyleaf.
Books were always much-loved presents for me and my brothers. My mother was an avid reader, and we were all read to as soon as we were old enough to understand words. I’m so grateful for that early exposure, which I’m sure helped spark my lifelong love of stories and storytelling. One of my earliest recollections of a book present was The Cat in the Hat. The sense of clever wordplay really made me laugh, and I think Dr. Seuss showed me the power—and the great fun—of language.
But my memorable book gift was The Fabulous Flight by Robert Lawson. I know I’ve mentioned it here on the blog in the past, but it’s worth mentioning again as it showed me the magic of imagination. The hero, Peter Pepperell, suddenly starts shrinking when he’s seven and ends up 4 inches tall. Then when he learns from his father, a noted scientist, that a madman is planning on destroying the world with a powerful weapon, he and his friend Gus the seagull come up with a plan to stop him. (It turns out that his tiny size is key to being able to this.) So off he and Gus fly to Europe (where they do some sightseeing along the way.) It’s a wonderful story of friendship and heroic quest, done with such an imaginative twist. It really struck a chord with me, and inspired me to create my own stories of adventures with animal friends. (Lawson also did the delightful illustrations, which also appealed to me!
I’m still inspired by that long-ago gift. And books are still my favorite presents, as they encourage you to let your imagination take flight.
I don't remember ever getting a book as a present.
This sounds like nobody cared about books in the family, but actually it was exactly the opposite. The house was stuffed full of books when I was growing up. Shelves and shelves of them, packed in every which way.
There were five of us kids, all collecting books from everywhere, and my parents had their own extensive reading. There was just no shortage.
When we'd go to a bookstore I could pile as many books as I wanted on the counter and my mom would buy them for me. (Mostly we went to used books shops. *g*) I was book-privileged, though I never really thought about it.
This is a terrible answer to an Ask-A-Wench, isn't it?
Mary Jo here.
My situation is somewhat like Joanna's in that I very seldom received books as gifts, though I do remember a Christmas book of the Arthurian legends, heavily censored so as to be suitable for children. It was years before I realized how much was left out <g>, but since I was apparently born loving myths and fairy tales, I still liked the book very well.
I didn't have unlimited access to bookstores, but I spend my childhood devouring the contents of the school and public libraries, so my family probably had figured out that there was no way they could buy me enough books. No doubt it was also recognized that I preferred to choose my own reading material, thankyouverymuch. Hence, libraries.
Much later, a lovely boyfriend gave me a wonderful book that was a reproduction of the Book of Kells. Beautiful! I still have it, of course. More recently, a couple I know sometimes give me birthday books of the clever, amusing sort that are well suited for me, like a book of six word stories and more recently, Dancing with Cats Because, cats!
Birthdays and books always went together when I was a child. I remember often getting new books along with a doll or another toy. My mom, a kindergarten teacher, knew reading was essential, and encouraged her four girls to read often, which we did.
My earliest memory of a special book present was a gift from my grandparents of The Tall Book of Fairy Tales. Though I wasn't old enough to actually read it, others read the stories to me, and I was fascinated by the fairy tales as much as that tall, big book–I remember lugging it around everywhere, and how huge it seemed to me then. I still love fairy tales–they've influenced my writing and my reading choices ever since.
Other special books that were gifts were Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney–I loved that cheerful, positive family and their adventures–and other treasures like Pippi Longstocking (one of my favorites), and the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew series (I was always begging for new books in the series).
In high school, my parents gave me a book about Renaissance art that opened up the academic world to me (and I ended up in grad school studying art).
In my own household, birthdays are synonymous with books–my husband and sons are all big readers too. Birthdays and books will always be a perfect combination!
Sadly, I cannot remember ever receiving a book for a birthday present. Both my parents were orphans and didn’t develop the birthday celebration habit in their childhoods. Once I was no longer a cute curly-haired toddler, I never had a birthday cake, unless I baked it myself. And after we moved to KY, we spent the week of my birthday driving to visit family in New York—I got new comic books to read!
But I did have one particularly spectacular birthday present that suited my writerly nature. When I was in high school, I desperately wanted a desk. My parents argued about it, my mother blew up, dragged me down to Sears, and bought the desk of my dreams. So I can’t say I never had a birthday present!
And as a result, my kids received books for both birthday and Christmas, and I learned to write my own books whenever I wanted.
I was often given books for a birthday present, and it's hard for me to choose the best. Each one was precious.
My birthday is in the summer holidays, and we were usually away in the caravan or somewhere, so it was always wonderful to have a new book to read and reread. I liked the "annuals" of various sorts that contained stories and facts and puzzles, and nearly every year I'd be given some Enid Blyton stories in whichever of her series was my current favorite.
One year my aunt gave me a hardback annual of comics — which were forbidden in our house, so it was like being given legal contraband and thus very exciting. And a special present one year was a thick book of folk tales from every land.
But a favorite was The Doll's House by Rumer Godden, beautifully written and with a charming story. It was followed soon afterwards by more doll books by Rumer Godden, this time Japanese dolls, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, and then Little Plum.
I wasn't much interested in dolls as such, but doll's houses were a whole other thing, and those books really sparked my imagination.
And when I went to find the links for these books, I discovered more doll books by Rumer Godden, so of course I've bought them and am heading back to childhood.
And I think it's appropriate to give the last word to our very own birthday Wench:
One of the major reasons I always looked forward to my birthday as a child was the excited hope that I would get at least one book as a present. Actually I’m still exactly like that now, many years on! As an only child in a bookish family I did get lots of books as gifts and it was wonderful; that sense of anticipation when I saw the shape of parcel, wondering which book it would be, and then the discovery when I unwrapped it.
The book presents I received were a mixture of “improving” books and entertaining ones. My grandfather, who was a poet and English teacher, wanted me to read literature so he gave me beautiful copies of books such as The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkein, which I found quite difficult to get into! He also gave me this wonderful set of books by Alan Garner which I still have (one book, The Owl Service, went missing so I picked up a later edition.)
Alan Garner is still one of my favourite authors and the combination of magic, mysticism and adventure in his stories was catnip to a child who was interested in reading about the supernatural. I’m sure that’s where my interest in reading and writing spooky books started!
These days I tend to get asked what books I’d like for my birthday which is great because although there isn’t the element of surprise, I can look forward to getting my hands on something I really want to read. The result is still the same it was forty years ago as well – I scurry off into a corner with my present and no one hears from me for hours!
What about you? Were there any treasured books that you received as birthday presents?