My parents believed that books and travel offered the best education. Luckily, books packed the shelves in my closet, towered on my nightstand, and were easy to pack no matter our destination. My mom read to me every night as a child. Whether home or on the road, I’d snuggle under the covers, and she’d balance on the edge of the bed with whatever book I’d chosen. Some of my favorites were I Wish That I Had Duck Feet, The Carrot Seed, and Why Was I Adopted? More than three decades later and I remember the stories and their messages, and eagerly got copies to read to my own child.
I Wish That I Had Duck Feet is about a boy who wished for so many things, and his wishes were granted. He wanted an elephant trunk, antlers, and—as the title implies—duck feet. These wishes weren’t all they were cracked up to be, and in the end, he just wanted to be himself. The book taught me that we can have fun fantasizing, but must accept and love who we are.
Now, I read this book to my seven-year-old daughter in hopes she gets the same message. We talk about things we like in others, and what we like in ourselves. We even talk about traits we dislike, yet without judging, we spin them into more positive interpretations. It’s not my place to talk of traits she dislikes in herself, but mine was that my rib cage sticks out more than my chest. Once we spun it to something positive, I said that my rib cage houses very big lungs that have powered my lucrative career as a distance runner. So, a trait I originally didn’t like, I acknowledged as one of my greatest assets.
The Carrot Seed is about a boy named Harold who plants a seed and knows it will grow a carrot, despite the ridicule and skepticism of his family. He cares for it and its surroundings, until one day he pulls out an enormous carrot. The book was, to me, a simple appreciation of where food comes from, but also a more sophisticated lesson on inner determination. I read this 1940s book to my daughter—or rather, she reads it to me—and we talk about both the value of good food and the importance of staying unwavering in our pursuits. Even at the age of seven, Piper is very determined, and I attribute that to the traits she learned from Harold.
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My mom frequently read me Why Was I Adopted?, and this book just may have been my first lesson in optimism. As she read the story, she always emphasized the fact that I was chosen, as opposed to given away. Both, I suppose, are my reality: given up at birth, and chosen by my parents.
It’s a lesson in choosing a perspective that serves you better. And while I’ve only read this book to Piper once, so we could talk about me being adopted, it sparked a beautiful conversation. We now make a game of twisting our perspectives after acknowledging our feelings. It might be raining, so we can’t have the picnic we’d planned. Sure it was disappointing, but I suggested eating on a blanket inside and then putting on our rain boots to stomp in puddles. A better perspective is sometimes hard to find, but it’s always worth working for, I tell her. She agrees.
Now, I love that Piper reads her favorite books to me, and she always follows up with a discussion on what we read. In one story, I admitted that I was scared the fox was going to get the rabbit. She answered, “Well, Mom, the fox needs to eat.”
Reading together, even when she was an infant and I wasn’t quite sure she understood, has long been a sacred time in the evening, but we also read when we take a break on a hike, when we’re snuggling on the couch in front of a fire, or when we’re traveling in the car. There’s no better education than what we learn in the books we read, and no better gift we can give our children than to pass on the importance of a good book. It inspires reflection and conversation, which are key characteristics for our little ones to grow into successful people.
And l agree with my parents that reading and travel are life’s best educators. Good thing that no matter our destination, there’s always room for a good book or two.
Featured Image: Matt McCarty; Author Photo: Jeremy Teicher