Monday, January 2, 2012

Let Them Eat Books!

When Marie-Antoinette uttered the words “Qu'ilsmangent de la brioche” (which loosely translates to ‘let them eat cake’), she was doing one of two things; being ironic or being generous.  Why in the world would you give starving rebels cake?  Better question, why wouldn’t you?  When someone has a hunger and you have the means to satiate that hunger doesn’t it stand to reason that you would step forward and help out?

Maybe that’s what Marie-Antoinette meant to do, who knows.  Historians find fault even attributing her with this quote.  And to summarize what is written in the history books, the rebels didn’t get fed and she was put to death for treason.  A sad story whose fictional account lies within the pages of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  
Ah yes, it all comes back to a book.  That’s the point.  Most every experience in life will bring you to or back to a book.  Depending on your appetite for books and your reading speed, which incidentally for the average person remains unchanged beyond elementary school, around 250 words per minute(I feel better now); you may be a casual, snacking kind of reader or a tear it apart and get to the meat of it, voracious one.

This is true whether you are a baby or an adult or anywhere in between.  Most all of us have some appetite for books, however acquired it may be.  That appetite and acquisition has been shaped over time by those of influence around us, especially if you are a young child.

To this day I remain very fond of books with pictures – coffee table books, reference books, photography books, cookbooks, and children’s picture books are just some examples; however I will rarely read the assembly instructions that come with – well, anything that needs assembling.  I do so like an adventure.  Many of us have a specific type of book we enjoy or desire to read.  While that enjoyment and desire of topic can change, what remains is our appetite for the Book.

Capitalizing the word makes it more austere, don’t you agree.  The Book.  Everything about it begs reverence.  Take a Book, set it in front of you and follow along as we embark on a journey.

Begin by examining the cover, which is sometimes swaddled in a lovely dust jacket.  This is the entry gate, the portal, the boards that will lead you to whatever journey lies within.  Leather or linen, gilt of gloss, the cover gets us started, especially if we know nothing about the content.  It’s a given that publishers have an extreme advantage today when it comes to cover art.  The sheer quantity and selection of materials available allow for infinite possibilities when creating cover designs.  How many times have you picked up and purchased a book just on the cover alone?

But I digress, so back to our journey.  Poised at this magic portal, take a deep breath and open, step inside the front cover.  You might encounter some endpapers; sometimes white, often times colored and embelished with spectacular artwork.  Kind of like a grand entrance hall or theatre lobby if you will.  Breathe it all in, celebrate the beauty of it.

Next, turn the pages as if drawing back a curtain, until you arrive at the title page.  Here begins the overture that includes title, author and publisher.  This list represents those personally responsible for the journey you are about to take.  They deserve honor and recognition - pause and praise them.

Ever wonder where the expression leafing through a book came from?  In the publishing world the page of a book is called a leaf.  These are the next and most important parts of your Book.  These pages, these leaves that dance with words and images are the true treasure, the inner sanctum.  Revel in them from start to finish.

Did you enjoy our journey?  Did you see a Book with new eyes?  Do you remember the first time you opened a Book?  What was that like for you?

The experience of exploring a book is similar for children.  Whatever their age, children are fascinated with books.  Not just the inner content but the Book as a thing is of great interest to them.  Why?  Because it is new, everything to very young children is new.

With books, infants are visually drawn to images (and will later draw images).  During this phase in their natural development, books with bright and simple pictures are about all they need (the words have been added for your enjoyment- please read them aloud to your child-thank you).  Hand a book to an infant, about 4 months old.  One of the first things that baby will do is grab it with both hands and put the book in his or her mouth.  Already, an appetite for books (pun absolutely intended).  It is perfectly acceptable, developmentally appropriate for a baby to explore objects by putting them in their mouth.
Babies, toddlers, children are hardwired to explore and experiment.  Be prepared for them to look at, touch, throw, chew, crumple, wash, step on, open, close and in some cases offer their Book to the family dog by way of the watering bowl (again with the appetite and feeding – this analogy will not go away).  During these early stages in child development, the Book is an object.  You will want to consider this fact when you buy books for children.

As babies become toddlers, they begin to name familiar objects when they recognize them in books.   They will point to or tap the image and say the name, or something sounding close to it.  Watch for quizzical looks when your child sees a new image.  That look is your cue to give them the word.  Another thing that toddlers and children are really masterful at doing is imitating whatever they see you doing.  From sweeping to sleeping, eating to reading, toddlers and children learn by watching and doing. 
This is where you become the catalyst that turns the contents of a Book into a magical journey.    When you place yourself and your child at that entry way, you become the spark to the fire of their learning, the chef to their appetite for books.  You accomplish that when you open the cover, when you share with them the words and talk about the pictures.  That is when you transform the Book from a thing to an experience.  You have that power (feels like you should get a cape and secret ring)!  

Remember the magical journey we took earlier?  You have the power to share that journey with your child.  You have the power to influence their taste in books, they already have the appetite.

So I say, “Let them eat books”!  Not because it’s ironic, but because it’s generous.  They have the appetite and you have the ability to feed them.

Thanks for tripping on Books.  

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