I’m that grownup. The one who gives the same gift for every occasion: A book.
A baptism? Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, or The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton.
Unless it’s a grownup being baptized, of course. Then it might be the life of St. Innocent or of Chiune Sugihara. Or perhaps the writings of St. Dorotheos of Gaza or of Mother Maria of Paris.
A wedding? A cookbook, perhaps. Or Marriage as a Path to Holiness by David and Mary Ford.
A birthday? Christmas? Pascha?
Books, books, books!
The wonderful thing about books is … well, there are so many wonderful things. Where does one even begin?
The best, most wonderful thing about books is that they can introduce you to people and places and times that you couldn’t have even imagined, if it weren’t for the books.
So many people stick to reading books about people like themselves. And there’s an important place for that sort of book, particularly for children. When a child who struggles to master negative feelings reads Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak or Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, the child understands that other people share their feelings. When a child who always wants more of Mama’s attention reads Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy, the child learns that other children want their Mama’s attention, too. When an Orthodox Christian child reads King Island Christmas, the child understands that other people share their faith. It’s hard to overstate how important this is to a child. Literacy experts call the books in which children see themselves and their own culture and experience “mirrors.”
And mirrors are important. But so are windows. Windows are the books in which children see people who are different from themselves. Through reading these books, they begin to understand people and cultures that they might not ever experience in their everyday lives. They learn to appreciate people from different backgrounds, and to value what they can learn from people with different experiences.
For example, when a child reads Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto, the child learns about Christmas traditions that he might not be familiar with. When a child reads Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki, Dom Lee, and Hiroki Sugihara, the child imagines what it would be like to risk her own life and liberty to save others. When a child reads Brave Girl by Michelle Markel, or When Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan, the child learns something of what it was like to be a Ukrainian immigrant or a talented black woman in the early part of the twentieth century. And when the child who has read When Marian Sang reads Firebird by Misty Copeland, he can begin to understand how very much things have changed over time, and what things perhaps have not changed enough.
Most important, by reading books about many different kinds of people, children begin to see how all people are different and yet the same. They learn that a Japanese diplomat was an Orthodox Christian. They learn that Orthodox Christians on King Island are Native Alaskans. They learn that families who eat tamales instead of dolmades love each other and celebrate Christmas, too. They learn that, no matter who you are, or when or where you live, or what you look like, families and churches are built on love.
So when you’re choosing books for your own children, or for yourself, or to give as gifts, seek out books that give a positive and accurate look into the lives of people that aren’t like you. And look for the ways in which all of us, in our diversity, reflect God in whose image we are made.