By Tina CoyneSmith, Guest Blog Entry
The second best gift I have ever received was a series of books—Trixie Belden mysteries to be exact. My husband, a gift-giving genius, spent most of 2002 scouring second-hand bookstores and Ebay to collect for me the entire set of 39 books in the Golden Press paperback editions I read in the 1980s.
I grew up in a very modest working class neighborhood, the oldest of five children living with two parents and a dog in a 1200-square-foot row home. We did not want for food and shelter, but there were very few extras. We were not a family who bought books. We were the kids who could not afford braces, or swim lessons, or summer camp. We certainly never traveled. But I discovered the entire world in those Trixie Belden mysteries.
Every now and again, my grandparents would give me a book as a gift, which is how I discovered the series in the first place. With lead detective Trixie Belden and her best friend Honey Wheeler, I explored and learned about almost every state in the country. When I finally visited New York City as an adult, I already knew all about it because Trixie and Honey had taken me there. I learned about the Ozarks and Arizona. I absorbed the history of Williamsburg, Virginia, and felt very at home there when I attended graduate school at William & Mary years later. I am a logophile with an excellent vocabulary, in no small part due to the sesquipedalian Mart Belden who introduced me to beauties like “numismatics” and “entomologist.” I also learned what it meant to have and be part of a strong circle of friends. I learned to be thoughtful, and generous, and kind; to create a strong community and work hard to nurture it; to have fun and to take care of each other. These fundamental lessons learned from the Bob-Whites remain part of my core to this very day.
I owned very few of these books, maybe a dozen, given to me by my grandparents as gifts over many years. Usually I got my Trixie fix by walking the couple miles to the public library and keeping my fingers crossed that I would find a new Trixie Belden on the shelves. But when I was given one of my own, I treasured it deeply and read and re-read it until the cheap paperback spine broke. The price stickers told me they cost about a dollar-fifty at the local K-Mart, but they were worth so much more than that to me.
My husband knows how much I love books and can attest that even still I always choose books when asked what I’d like for a gift. And he knows how much those books in particular meant to me as a child. He knows that they evoke for me my grandparents and all the best parts of my childhood, like staying up past midnight in the summers reading in bed. And so he spent the better part of a year assembling this series of old books, which he gave to me for my 34th birthday, the year after my grandparents died. He is an extraordinary man and those books were truly the second best gift I have ever received.
Yes, just second best. So what was the best gift I ever received? Those same Trixie Belden books, the first time around, from my grandparents. The first books that were mine—that I owned and did not have to take back to library. I can tell you firsthand that owning books is a powerful thing. I owned about 12 of these books at $1.50 per book. For a price tag of $18 I was given the world.
We need to do this for more kids today. For very little money we can literally give them the world. We can teach them how to be good people, how to be good friends, how to be good citizens. We can introduce them to a panoply of places, personalities, and experiences that they may not encounter in person. And they will internalize the lessons they learn as they negotiate those relationships and circumstances—good and bad—in stories. When we give children books, we give them imagination and we give them dreams. There no limit to where books will take them.