Monday, November 10, 2008

Books, Books, Books

My dad was a big fan of celebrating special occasions. He especially loved celebrating them on dates that were not the actual dates of the occasions. I’ve mentioned before how we used to celebrate Thanksgiving whenever we felt like it, sometimes several times a year, and rarely in November. Christmas was often celebrated whenever my dad came back from a trip to the United States. It’s hard to describe just how incredible the ritual of the Opening of the Suitcases was when I was growing up. There were special gifts like walkmans and cassette tapes, magazines, Hershey bars and all kinds of assorted candy that was locked in a trunk and rationed throughout the year. My dad always milked it and made the most out of each reveal, so that my brother and I were always craning our necks practically drooling in anticipation while we waited for him to pull out whatever was hidden beneath the dirty laundry in his luggage. Christmas was always a fun time—tamales! rompope! huge manger scenes!—and an important holiday, but gifts were not big part of it. Nothing could have compared to the Opening of the Suitcases.

And my birthday, which was in May, was always celebrated in July.

There are a lot of bookstores in Costa Rica that sell books in English now, and there are even used bookstores which are full of books that tourists have left behind. But when I was growing up, there was only one. It was called simply The Bookshop, and it was so small and cozy. And they had a huge sale every year. In July.

My dad took me every year. It was my birthday gift, and I was allowed to buy stacks and stacks of books. After I was done picking out my favorites—books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madeleine L’Engle and James Herriot, the Great Brain books, Trixie Belden and every book in the Oz series—my dad would always steer me towards the saleslady and ask her what else she might recommend for a girl my age, and I would add some more to my pile. When I got home, I would spread them all out on my bed and look through them carefully, and deciding which one to read first took an eternity.

My parents passed their love of reading down to me. The yearly shopping spree at The Bookshop is the only time I remember money being no object. When I outgrew my own books, I moved on to my parents’ books. They had an aversion to fiction, so I read many, many memoirs, written by teachers, actors, doctors, books about the Cold War and about Holocaust survivors. We took to initialing the inside of the front cover of the books we’d read, so it was easy to keep track of who had read what. Even though we watched some TV every night, it was always turned off at some point so we could all have some peace and quiet while we all read in the living room together.

And now, I'm making every effort to pass that love of reading on to my boys. I didn’t start reading to them as early as they say you should, but I felt silly reading to them when they were newborns, just like I felt silly talking to them when I was pregnant. (Also, they got to hear my voice half an hour per hour while I was interpreting. I figured it didn't matter that what they were hearing were court proceedings in Spanish.) Once they could sit up, though, there were always board books strewn around the floor along with their toys. When I started reading them stories at night, I had a captive audience—their room was so tiny that there was only enough room to wedge a chair between both of their cribs. I would sit and read to them every night while they stood in their cribs and peered over the top.

When they were that small and had no say in the matter, I read to them almost exclusively in Spanish. That ended once they were big enough to grab a book and bonk me in the head with it insistently until I agreed to read it to them, so I began reading to them in English as well. What I’ve found, though, is that we keep coming back to the books in Spanish again and again, to the point that even P often reads to them in Spanish because those are their favorites and those are the stories they want to hear.

This has meant I’ve become quite passionate about children’s books in Spanish. I’m always on the lookout for them—new on Amazon, used at library sales, from friends and relatives who come to visit from Costa Rica. P often comments that our place looks like a bomb went off in Barnes & Noble. And while we started with Buenas Noches, Luna and the Eric Carle books in Spanish, the boys quickly moved past those (though I won’t say they outgrew them, because we recently went through another Eric Carle phase and they seemed to enjoy the books even more than they had before), and I’ve discovered many, many wonderful books since the days of La oruga muy hambrienta.

I’ve added an Amazon widget to my blog that reflects our current favorites, just for fun, and I’ll comment on what we’re reading occasionally as well, both for my own benefit as well as in hopes that it might lead someone else to discover something new.

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