Book or book token?

I had a conversation with someone once. It went, “How about books as prizes for children?”

And the response was, “I don’t give books because they might not like it. I give book tokens so they can choose.”

Which makes sense, because what’s the point of giving a book that won’t be enjoyed? And why not include the pleasure of going out and choosing a book?

But also makes no sense¬†because, by the same token (pardon the pun), there’s also the risk that a book token won’t be spent.

Thing is, both ideas are lovely. I like the idea of giving a book as a personal prize, where it can be inscribed as a memento of achievement. Maybe the child will enjoy the book, maybe not – but a gift is a gift; it doesn’t have to be perfect immediately – some gifts are for growing into, or worst case, they can always give it to someone else.

Choosing books for people can be tricky of course, and what children like to read is NOT always predictable. If I look back at my childhood, I used to enjoy:

  • adventure stories (“for boys” — don’t get me started) — Tom Brown’s School Days, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Escape, etc,
  • animal stories,
  • animal nonfiction,
  • fiction classics and fairytales — Brothers Grimm, Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables, The Water Babies, Blyton, etc,
  • the dictionary (for the rude words),
  • Calvin and Hobbes,
  • Rupert the Bear pop-up books from the 1940s for the slightly archaic tone,
  • Ancient wildlife books,
  • quirky books like The Grammatical Kittens,
  • Mills and Boon (30 books, one plot),
  • The Joy of Sex (to laugh at the beardy man (oh come ON, you didn’t do this?)),
  • DIY manuals,
  • and weird old recipe books that included suet and lard.

Very little of what I liked would have been given to me by the adults I knew at that time, and some of it might have been forbidden, but as a child, I had an open mind, and once I gave a text my attention, I usually found something to like in it. The difference between a new text and what I’d read before often felt like an adventure, and rarely felt like a chore.

This may or may not be the same for everyone, but there’s only one way to find out whether a book will be read and enjoyed, or not: let the children see the books.

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