I had a cloth library bag when I was a kid. I don’t remember what colour it was or where it came from, but I can still feel the way that its handles cut into my little hands as I carried it, burrowing into my skin. I’d cart it home from the library by myself, bumping off my legs, making my arms feels like lead. But I didn’t mind. It felt like it was filled with treasure because, well, it was.
I loved books. That bag was packed with Sweet Valley and Babysitter’s Club books, horse themed novels, The Boxcar Children – whatever I could get my hands on and could stuff into my library bag. I had lived countless lives before I even left elementary school.
My young brain got to experience situations and events that I would never encounter in real life. I had the chance to understand that I might see the world differently than others, and that that’s okay. I learned about places, events, and pastimes that didn’t fit into my suburban childhood, but made their own compartments in my head, filling it with ideas and awareness.
Opening a new book – or re-reading an old one – was never a chore. Each page took me on an adventure. And the potential for new adventures was unending.
And, with the prime gig of first-time Auntie coming sometime this summer, I wanted to pass on the feelings of awe and possibility that come from opening a book. I needed to help start baby’s first library.
I needed a bookstore.
But that proved to be an adventure in itself.
See, I live within easy travel distance of a mall. It’s a mall with a long history – a history that includes once having two bookstores within a three-minute walk of one another. But, more recently, that history involves renovations and improvements. The mall has been brought into this century design-wise. Retail space has been increased. New stores have been added. It’s pretty impressive.
But, these days, my trips to the mall are with purpose. I shop like I’m on a mission; I don’t wander. So, I have no clue how to make my way around this new mall. Being the mission-oriented shopper that I am, I wanted to pre-plan my route to the bookstore from home. I pulled up mall’s directory on the trusty interwebs and clicked the “Books, Cards, and Stationary” category.
But I can’t buy brain stimulating, reading-love inducing books at Hallmark. And that’s the only store listed under “Books, Cards, and Stationary.”
The mall doesn’t have a bookstore. It has 1.2 million square feet of retail space, and none of it is dedicated to books.
And I get it, to a certain extent. I understand that the traditional publishing and bookselling industries have been struggling with the increase in E-Reader usage. And, hey, if people are reading more due to the convenience of E-Readers, I’m all for that increase.
But that’s the key: people read more because of E-Readers. Because they already love reading. They know that they’re holding excitement and adventure in their hands, even if it just looks like another rectangular gadget.
Babies don’t know that. They need to feel the adventure with cloth books, find the excitement with hide and seek books, and see it with pop-ups. They need board books to practice their dexterity, turning pages in their quest for adventure. They need bath books that can be submerged in water. They need to be stimulated by more than just words.
Babies are still figuring out how this language business works, but they have fingers to feel pages. They have toes to tickle with fuzzy fabrics. They have eyes to devour colours and gums to gnaw on the stories they love to hear. For babies, reading is a whole body experience. It’s not just words on the page. Babies love books with their whole being, before they even understand what reading is all about.
But that’s not a love they can develop with a hard, cold, visually underwhelming E-Reader. And that’s definitely not something they could take in the bath.
So, I drove a half-hour one-way to KidsBooks. Auntie was going to help build baby’s first collection of books – his first collection of adventures – even if she had to go on a quest of her own to do it.
Because whether I’m barely managing to carry a canvas bag across the street, or ripping across the city in my car, I’ll get those treasures. And I’ll share, devouring them with my eyes and brain while my little nephew tries to literally eat them.
Because, one day, he’ll stop trying to eat the books, but he’ll keep chewing on the story. He’ll start going on his own quests. The adventures and excitement will stay with him once the pages are shut.
And that’s when he’ll fall in love.
Not with books. Not with an E-Reader.
But with reading.
It’s a love I can’t wait to share – no matter how many quests of my own I need to go on in order to put adventures in his hands.