The holiday season is here and commercialism abounds. Yet gift giving can also be altruistic. Winston Churchill said, “We make a life by what we give.”
The following books demonstrate that giving can be a basic ingredient in a truly happy life.
‘Boxes for Katje’
“Boxes for Katje” is based on a true story. Author Candace Fleming tells about the concept of giving and getting back.
Right after World War II, Katje’s family lives in war-torn Olst, Holland, which has been devastated. Then one day a box arrives from America full of things to help. The box was sent by Rosie, an American girl, as part of a goodwill effort. A friendship begins between the girls, and many more packages arrive from Rosie.
Rosie begins a collection of things for Katje from all over her American town. Katje is so appreciative and shares the items that come with all her neighbors. Finally things get a little better for Katje. To thank Rosie and everyone who helped her, Katje sends tulip bulbs to America to brighten their day.
‘Ask Mr. Bear’
Marjorie Flack shares a great lesson in “Ask Mr. Bear”: The best gifts are not material items. This is an older book with quaint pictures.
Danny travels from animal to animal looking for the best present for his mother. The animals offer things such as fresh eggs, feathers for a pillow, milk for cheese, and wool. However, everything that is offered by the animals, his mother already has.
Finally one suggests that Danny ask Mr. Bear. Danny goes alone since the other animals are reluctant to accompany him.
Mr. Bear comes up with a wonderful gift—a bear hug for his mother.
‘Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present’
Charlotte Zolotow’s “Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present” is another older book with simple yet colorful illustrations. It features a charming conversation between a rabbit and a little girl.
The girl wants to get a gift for her mother but has no money. The rabbit and the girl finally settle on a most unusual gift—the gift of colors. Mr. Rabbit then suggests some rather foolish gifts for each of the colors, such as red roofs or a yellow taxicab.
In the end, they decide to put fruits representing different colors (green pears, yellow bananas, red apples, and blue grapes) into a basket that the girl already owns. The book ends with the girl feeling that she has a lovely present.
‘The Teddy Bear Doctor: A Let’s Make & Play Book’
“The Teddy Bear Doctor: A Let’s Make & Play Book” by Deanna F. Cook and “The LEGO Ideas Books” are examples of the many books that give the gift of learning in an exciting way.
“The Teddy Bear Doctor” has everything in it to set up an amazing pretend veterinarian clinic. The many “LEGO Ideas Books” have children make models using their imagination. To paraphrase an old Chinese proverb, “Learning is the gift that will follow its owner everywhere.”
In “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotow, William wants a doll. William is met with opposition from his brother, the boy next store, and his father.
William’s father buys him a basketball, an electric train, and a workbench but William still wants a doll. At the end of the book, William is given the ultimate gift. He not only gets the doll that he wants but also the greater gift of understanding why from a very wise grandmother.
By listening to her grandson, the grandmother recognizes that a doll will help William practice doing what great fathers do— cuddle, comfort, and protect their children.
In “Gorilla” by Anthony Browne, Hannah is given the gift of time with her father. Hannah loves everything about gorillas but has never seen a real one because her father has never taken her to the zoo. He is always too busy.
Hannah asks for a gorilla on her birthday. Although she means a trip to the zoo, what Hannah gets instead on the night before her birthday is a toy gorilla. That night, Hannah dreams that the toy gorilla grows, and wearing her father’s clothes, takes her on an adventure, which includes a trip to the zoo.
The next morning on her birthday, Hannah gets a surprise when her father says, “Do you want to go to the zoo?” Hannah rejoices.
‘The Sweet Smell of Christmas’
Patricia M. Scarry’s “The Sweet Smell of Christmas” is an interactive book that stresses the all-important sense of smell with scratch-and-sniff stickers that are related to the feelings and memories of Christmas.
While traditional holiday aromas are different for everyone, smell can invoke fond memories of loving actions. The loving actions portrayed in this book—such as getting the perfect tree, hanging candy canes, or baking gingerbread figures—are wonderful gifts for children.
‘The Quiltmaker’s Gift’
“The Quiltmaker’s Gift” by Jeff Brumbeau is the story about a greedy king surrounded by splendid gifts. The king likes receiving presents so much that he proclaims his birthday will be two times each year. Yet he is never happy with what he has.
The king meets a gifted quiltmaker and demands a quilt from her. She refuses unless he gives away some material possessions. She tells him she will sew him a quilt piece by piece, adding on to the quilt each time he gives something away.
The king reluctantly agrees to her demand, growing happier each time that he gives something away. At the end of the book, he is much poorer in material possessions but has experienced the joy of giving. The king considers that priceless.
The great illustrations of quilts just add to the beauty of the book.
Mac Barnett’s “Extra Yarn” starts in a black-and-white world, where everything is drab. Then one day, Annabelle finds a magical gift—a box filled with multicolored yarn. She knits a sweater. There is extra yarn left over, so she knits sweaters for everyone in town, animals, and all sorts of things that don’t even wear sweaters. Yet the yarn never runs out.
One day, an archduke tries to buy her yarn but Annabelle will not sell. The archduke steals her box of yarn, but it is empty. He hurls the box out of the window and Annabelle finds it. At the end of the story, the town is transformed from cold and unappealing to warm and inviting thanks to a magical gift.
‘The Gift of the Magi’
In O. Henry’s timeless story “The Gift of the Magi,” a poor young couple struggle to give each other meaningful Christmas gifts. Unbeknownst to the other, each gives up a most treasured possession to buy the other a wonderful present. The wife sells her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch. The husband sells his watch to buy his wife a comb to wear in her beautiful hair. The gifts are useless as a result, but the special feeling invoked from giving to another out of pure love is not.
”Twas the Night Before Christmas’
This article would not be complete without mentioning the most famous gift giver of them all, Santa Claus. I highly recommend the book edition of the famous poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore. The poem is about a father observing Santa Claus (called St. Nick in the poem) leaving gifts for the family on Christmas Eve.
Many books feature this poem, but I like those with the original unaltered poem and old-fashioned pictures, pipe smoking and all. The poem was written in 1822, and I feel it should be presented in a historically accurate way.
These are some of the many books you may want your children to read. To paraphrase St. Nick’s words, “Happy reading to all, and to all a good night.”
Linda Wiegenfeld is a retired teacher. Please send any comments or stories of giving to LWiegenfeld@aol.com