Thursday, 24 November 2011

There is the inevitable

article about what children want for Christmas in today's paper. This time the article concentrates on children rather than teenagers.
I have never heard of any of the items mentioned in the lists. (There are two, one for girls and one for boys.) The words "blister pack" are mentioned and the names of some things suggest they are currently popular items being pushed by advertising on commercial television.
Most were not particularly expensive - and that is probably about all that can be said for them.
There is not a book on either list.
A mother once complained to me that she did not know what to give her children for Christmas. They apparently wanted impossibly large items. I suggested books. She thought that was a ridiculous idea. Books were something you read once. Toys were something you played with for hours.
We were never allowed to ask for anything. If we tried we would be sharply reminded that it was not the proper thing to do. I know we had some strange looks when people outside our immediate family would ask, "And what do you want Father Christmas to bring you?" I stopped believing in Father Christmas at three years of age but I knew better than to say so. My answer would usually be, "I don't know."
I know now that our family had very little money to spend on such things. My father was teaching but teachers were not well paid and he was also finishing a university degree he had not been able to do during the war years. My mother, as women did then, stayed at home with us. Occasionally she would do a day's relief or supply teaching and my paternal grandmother would care for us. Such days were rare. Schools simply divided the classes of absent teachers unless the numbers grew too great to fit into one room.
Despite all that I am aware that other children, who must have come from similar financial circumstances, were given far more. They had new bicycles, scooters, roller skates, dolls, dolls' houses, board games and - occasionally - books. I suppose their parents went into debt to do those things. Books were certainly less common. Books for children could only be bought in two bookshops in the city - both of them "educational" booksellers - or were of the "Golden Books", "Annual" type books, or Collins like titles from places like a newsagent.
Now you can buy books, good quality books, in many places. There is a specialist children's bookstore - although the location is unfortunate. Our local indie bookstore has a specialist section for children. It is usually where I find presents for my godchildren and the children of my acquaintance.
As for the idea that a book is only read once there are books in my indie that demand to be read more than once. There are "how to" books that my godson loves and that my nephews loved when they were small. The Whirlwind, who is not a very demanding child with respect to presents, has her eye on a book of origami projects. "If my Dad asks me what I want I will tell him that." She knows full well that I have already told him. It will keep her entertained for hours this summer and it is not expensive. It is just the sort of present a child should be encouraged to want and use.
I know there are other books she would like to have as well but she has not mentioned them. Other children who borrow from my "library" have also asked for books. Their parents seem happy to oblige.
A good picture book can be read many times, even after the story is known by heart. Remember the delicious anxiety for Ping the duck and how you winced when he got that smack on the back? Remember how the Very Hungry Caterpillar needed that leaf to feel much better? Remember reading the adventures of Robin Hood or Biggles or Simon Black more than once? I think we need to start there and growup to things like the new organic gardening book I plan to give my father. I know it is what he wants and it is something to do as well. So, why no books on the list?


Sheep Rustler said...

On the upside, there will be lists of 'books to buy for Christmas' coming out soon, if not already, that will have good children's recommendations, at least in the 'good' newspapers. I don't think I have ever had a Christmas or a birthday without at least one book as a present, and equally neither has my husband nor my children.

Anonymous said...

There may be lists of books come out but the toy list has come out. People will buy the toys. Books will be second on the list and children who want them will be considered a little strange. Ros

widdershins said...

Didn't you know? ... now that the Harry Potter phenomenon has finished, there's no need to buy books anymore!

catdownunder said...

Sheep Rustler I am frightened Ros could be right or that Widdershins is...sigh...why am I even bothering to write this next book? The one out on submission will probably never see the shelves!

Rachel Fenton said...

Two reasons why masses of toys win out:
a. The presents are for the parents - make them feel better, for working, for not playing with their kids, for not knowing who their kids really are. You have to know a person to buy them a book they'll like, otherwise it'll be cast off somewhere to gather dust until a garage sale.
b. The presents temporarily alleviate a social fear of unpopularity.

Sheep Rustler said...

I never read the toy lists when my children were young enough for toys, and to their credit they only occasionally asked for the 'popular' toys. But I have always read the book lists. But I sadly accept that it is true that many, many parents are not like me. And maybe my children are not like many other children - cause or effect? Cat, I think, from what I have read, that at least my daughter and I would read your book, out of our four family members!