When I was about 9, my mother handed me a shopping bag and told me how the contents had transformed her when she was about my age. She told me about the special place that it still held in her heart and she wanted to share that experience with me.
A gift! A life-transforming gift!
Eager to get my hands on the magical contents, I opened the bag, reached inside and pulled out…a book. On the cover was an illustration of four girls, of various ages, standing around a piano while a woman, of no discernible age, sat with her fingers on the keys. All had their mouths open in song; all wore colorful dresses with fluffy sleeves and long, ruffled skirts.
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I opened it up and read the first page:
“Christmas won’t be Christmas with any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor,” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
I lost more interest with each sentence. Someone named Amy was whining about not having pretty things, all four girls were moping about giving stuff up and glum because their father was away fighting someplace.
I was living in the 1970s. I didn’t know anyone at war, couldn’t imagine a Christmas without presents and had never heard of the book Jo coveted: “Undine and Sintram.” Heck, I couldn’t even pronounce it.
The old-timey illustrations and content held little appeal to 9-year-old me, but I put the book on my bookcase and promised Mom I would read it.
I did try several times but got tripped up in the flowery language. I was a reader, but my idea of a great book was “Harriet the Spy,” “A Wrinkle in Time” or “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.” “Little Women” didn’t do anything for me. Where was the excitement or, most importantly, where was the character I could relate to?
It took me several starts and stops before I found her: Jo.
Jo had a temper a bit like mine, was always a mess like me, had no time for girly pursuits and, by the time I was 13 and finally read the book, being a writer sounded like a pretty cool career.
My experience with “Little Women” was nothing like my mother’s, but did that stop me from handing my vintage, illustrated copy over to my daughter with the same “you’re gonna love this facial” expression as Mom?
Has my now 20-year-old daughter, who tracks the hundreds of books she’s read and plans a career as a librarian, read it yet? Also, nope. The closest she has come to getting into it is a photo of her with her nose literally in the book giving it a good sniff.
Am I disappointed she doesn’t love it? Again, no.
Sharing books with a kid should never be a disappointment. It simply says, “books are important.” Like brushing their teeth and eating a healthy diet is important: they might not like your toothpaste or your favorite vegetable but keep encouraging and they will find ones they do.
Remember the kid magic a certain book brought to younger you? Maybe you started to call our parents “Ma and Pa” after reading “Little House on the Prairie.”
Did you beg for a dress with puffy sleeves or learn how to make raspberry cordial because of “Anne of Green Gables?”
Name a dog, “Holden” after reading “Catcher in the Rye” and anthropomorphize him thanks to Buck from “The Call of the Wild?”
Ever attempt Tom Sawyer’s whitewashing the fence trick?
My mom shared books with me and I shared with my daughter for a reason that Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg’s mother, Mrs. March’s final words of “Little Women” sum up best:
“…however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this!”
Susan Vollenweider lives in the Northland and hopes you encourage your favorite kids to join a library reading program this summer. To hear and read about the lives of women authors like L.M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls-Wilder, Jane Austen or Dorothy Parker listen to the women’s history podcast Susan co-hosts at www.thehistorychicks.com