Thursday, November 06, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Presents!

This week’s BTT topic: What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present? Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book itself? The “gift aura?”

First of all, Happy Birthday, Deb. And many more. Hope you get lots of good books as gifts!

Wow, this week’s BTT turned out to be a real walk down the well-known memory lane for me. I really hadn’t intended to spend so much time on it. But once I started thinking about the question and looking at old books, I just got completely carried away.

Dontcha love it when that happens?

At first I was tempted just to say I don’t get books as gifts, and let it go at that. Which would have been mostly true – my friends and family really aren’t givers-of-books. Not into that. They might give me a gift card from a bookstore. And that’s fine – they’re perfectly lovely folks and have many other wonderful traits and endearing habits. But that means I mostly buy my own books. And it also means I had to go back pretty far into the distant past (think Early Pleistocene) to come up with books I received as gifts.

The first one that came to mind is my copy (well, one of my copies) of J.D. Salinger’s Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour An Introduction. It was given to me by my husband-to-be on my 18th birthday, and it has a really nice little personal inscription in the back (“. . . on the first day of your eighteenth year. . .” – nowadays, M is usually quick to point out that it was actually the first day of my nineteenth year, but that doesn’t make it any less sweet). We were both devout Salinger enthusiasts at the time, and I think M fancied himself a sort of working-class, slightly older version of Holden Caulfield. Fortunately, he grew out of that rather quickly. (I always saw him as more of a George Harrison type, myself.) I think that’s the only book gift I’ve received as an adult that really made a deep impression on me. Loved the stories, loved the gift, loved the gift-giver. Loved being eighteen.

After that, I had to reach pretty far back into my childhood to come up with gift books that were anywhere near as memorable. But I recall receiving as Christmas presents three storybooks that I always loved and all of which I still have. In fact, I may have gotten them all at the same time – the publication dates are pretty close together. And they’re all dated within just a few years of my birth date, so I must have been really little when I received them. They’re all those oversized, beautifully illustrated storybooks they used to do for kids back in the late 1940s and early 50s.

One of them is The Bumper Book by Watty Piper with illustrations by Eulalie, which I think is still being published today, or being published again. Seems to me I’ve seen some recent editions listed on eBay. It’s a gorgeous book with lots of classic children’s tales and verses – “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,” “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat,” and many others. All with amazing illustrations by the wonderful Eulalie.

There’s also Johnny Gruelle’s Golden Book, written and illustrated by Johnny Gruelle (oddly enough). Gruelle was the originator of the Raggedy Ann books, and this book includes sections on “Raggedy Ann’s Alphabet” and “Raggedy Andy’s Numbers.”

And the third title in the group is The Everyday Story Book, illustrated by Signe Ivarson (who I’m assuming also wrote the stories, although the book doesn’t make that clear). The pictures in this one are just too cute to be believed – they look a lot like all those books of pink-and-perky paper dolls from the 1950s. And in fact, when I opened my copy this morning, I found a pile of homemade paper dolls I’d done by tracing the illustrations. How cute, if I do say so myself, is that?

See what I mean about walking down memory lane?

But my absolute favorite gift book I ever received is a book called 365 Bedtime Stories, which I got for Christmas when I was about nine years old. It’s a jumbo-sized storybook by the Whitman Company, written by Nan Gilbert and illustrated by Jill Elgin. It has a one-page story for every day of the year, and the stories are all about the children and families who live on What-a-Jolly Street. The end papers are a map of What-a-Jolly Street, with all the houses illustrated, along with the school at the end of the street. I loved What-a-Jolly Street. And I loved all the people who lived on What-a-Jolly Street. I used to read a story every night at bedtime (by this time, I was tucking myself in), and I was very careful not to read ahead. Obviously, I was already a book nerd by the age of nine.

Over the years, I managed to lose my original copy of 365 Bedtime Stories. But when eBay came along, I was able to track a copy down (well, two, actually). A really over-priced copy, of course. But now it’s back in my library and I can revisit What-a-Jolly Street anytime the real world gets just a little too real.

Gosh, what a shameless display of nostalgia-wallowing this has been! And I didn’t even talk about the little white leather Bible I received from (I think) one of my grandmothers when I was about six or seven (probably the Protestant grandmother – I think the Catholic one already knew I was a hopeless heathen by then). I’ve still got it, though it’s very fragile now, and the zipper is coming loose. I grew up to be not really very religious, but I still cherish that gift.


  1. Your post didn't seem long to me because I was enjoying every word and illustration. Thanks for the journey down Memory Lane!

  2. (sigh) I would've loved the bedtime story collection book too. Lucky you. So many wonderful books at such a young age! (sigh) Happy Booking Through Thursday. I'm giving away a couple of books. See my sidebar if you're interested.

  3. Thanks for sharing your special memories. The Salinger book sounds so good (and sweet). :)

    Over the years my friends have cringed from giving me books for my birthday owing to my eclectic taste. I wish to express my desire for a bookstore gift-card but yet it sounds a bit inappropriate.

  4. How wonderful that you have those books from your childhood. I'm afraid I don't have any from mine, and it happens to be more recent than yours. I wonder what happened to all my old story books?

  5. what a great group of kids books you have there! I think I've seen the 365 stories collection somewhere else. Neat! :-)

  6. I don't recognise any of those books (I'm a Brit and we had VERY 'British stiff upper lip' books as I was growing up in the 70s) but just seeing those covers makes me want to be a child again!

  7. Thanks so much for sharing, I really enjoyed reading about your book memories. And how totally awesome to open up a book and find your very own keepsakes inside - that kitty is indeed cute :)

  8. Your trip down memory lane was one for me too! I finally found my 365 Bedtime Stories but it doesn't have a cover anymore. I think it has all it's pages though. My Bumper Book is without it's cover too although I do have all the parts. I remember the other one too but I didn't have a copy of it. Yes, the paper dolls! Do you remember when we made library pockets for all our books? I inherited some of your Bobbsey Twin books and they were still in there. We were so creative in entertaining ourselves! We would be great examples for kids today!

  9. Sweet! My sister and I just came across your blog when we put "What a Jolly Street" into google in search of 365 Bedtime Stories. We LOVED that book and wallowed our copy to death some time in the late 1980s (it had been our mom's in the 1950s).

    --Mary Ann


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