My grandma is really thoughtful. She has always been a prolific giver of heartfelt cards, gifts, books, notes, letters, packages, and the like. Having lost her mom at age eight and then emigrating to the U.S. from Denmark to marry my grandpa at age eighteen — thus leaving her father and sisters behind — she holds family gifts and traditions very dear. I have shoeboxes filled with Christmas and Birthday cards, of course, but also Valentine, Easter, and Fourth-of-July cards.
But best of all are the books. When I was twelve or thirteen, I told my grandma that I heard about an idea to ask for children’s books as gifts as a way to start collecting for your future family. She took this comment very seriously, and I have ended up with a collection of beautiful, hardcover children’s books that I now read to my daughter — from Angelina Ballerina to The Three Trees. Each has a dated, beautifully scripted, hand-written message inside the front cover so that I feel the love and personality of my grandma each time I open one. Some even had photographs glued inside. Clearly she does not take gifts lightly.
Books are magical and wonderful all on their own, but we also know that reading with our kids consistently ranks as one of the best ways to spend quality time with them. And we now know that we need to do it every day, as well as give them lots of access to lots of books. Couple these facts with my desire to never step on another Barbie shoe, search for another puzzle piece, or pry another deflated pink ball from our German Shepherd’s mouth, and you end up finding the stone to kill all birds: Bring-a-Book Birthdays!
What better way to grow your child’s book collection, simplify or eliminate buying, encourage your child to value literacy, and decrease the amount of My Little Pony duplicates that you have to find a place for? In my birthday-party planning experience as a mom, I have so far held three all-out, bubble-machine, tiered cupcake-tray, crepe-paper-and-glue type parties. You know the kind. The ones that leave you frazzled and irritated and with half-dried hair by the time the entire neighborhood arrives. And to top it off, the amount of gifts at these things can be almost embarrassing and feels overindulgent for kids. I do like big neighborhood parties, so I was set on just adding the hotly-contested “no gifts please” at the bottom of this year’s invite. But, I think I may have found the best of both worlds in this fun fete with a twist.
I’m embracing minimalism this year, so my plan is to go theme-less, and simply ask everyone to bring a book from home that they no longer want. Here are some variations that are sure to please every type of host or crowd:
1. Pass it On: Start a tradition of giving on birthdays, and ask guests (and your child) to bring a book or two to donate to a local children’s shelter or charity.
2. Book Swap: Guests can bring a new, wrapped book they think another child would like. At the end of the party, each child picks a book from the pile and takes it home. This would really cut down on excess gifts for the birthday child and take care of party favors! Kids can still eat gummy “book worms” and make their own bookmarks.
3. Character-Driven: For the truly ambitious. The red-and-white Cat in the Hat parties have been done, but what about a French-style Madeline birthday complete with simple blue capes and yellow hats made out of paper bowls glued onto paper plates? Or letting kids dress up in fur and claws and bellow around the yard á la Where the Wild Things Are?
4. In the Making: Tell guests to forgo bought presents and that you will create the gift at the party. Make an instant “book” by passing around a nice, hardcover journal or album for kids and guests to write messages in for the birthday child. You could even give it a plot and have each guest add something creative to the storyline when it’s their turn. Add pictures from the day, and I imagine this would be a book that your child would want to read together over and over.
5. Other Types of Parties: I have seen baby showers and even weddings that adhere to a literary or book-bringing theme. A Bring a Book Baby Shower is ingenious, as you will be set up from day one to bond and snuggle with your baby over a few pages of Pat the Bunny or Curious George.
I firmly believe in the phrase, “To each their own.” Trends come and go, but this year I think I’m going to order ten pizzas and a premade cake from Costco so I can have time to sit down and write a heartfelt note inside a book that my daughter will treasure forever. Grandma would be proud.