What my favorite childhood books taught me

I was recently invited to a baby gender revealing party where the guests were asked to bring a childhood book with a handwritten message in lieu of a traditional Hallmark card and gift.

It’s been awhile since I last bought a children’s book so I was a bit at loss of what book to get.  As a lifelong reader, I thought back on what books were my favorite to brainstorm for the expecting couple’s gift.  What came to mind were two books that I still love to this day.

Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman was first read to me in Kindergarten.  The story is about a baby boy who receives a blanket at birth.  As the boy grows up, he brings his blanket with him everywhere, eventually turning the beloved blanket into a raggedy fabric.  Unable to part with the blanket, the boy’s grandpa turns the blanket into a jacket which the boy lovingly wears until the jacket also becomes teared.  The boy’s grandpa turns the jacket into the vest, and the same activity occurs, and so the vest becomes a handkerchief, and eventually into a button, and over time the boy looses the button, leaving the book with a sad, unresolved ending.

As a child, the story resonated with me.  It taught me that just because something has been loved, used, and tired, it doesn’t mean that it automatically gets thrown out and forgotten.  With a different eye and a fresh perspective, a beloved but destroyed blanket can be reused and turned into many, many different items.  It’s like one of those Ikea hacks that we often see on Pinterest.  Missing a few bolts?  Turn that Ikea Malm desk into a bed frame!

The second book that came to mind was The Balloon Tree by Phoebe Gilman(1).  The Balloon Tree is about a young princess whose father, the King, leaves the kingdom for a few days.  The king leaves the princess’ uncle in charge and tells the princess that if she gets into any trouble to release a balloon and he will see it and rush home.  As soon as the king leaves, the uncle locks up the princess and orders for all the balloons in the kingdom to be destroyed.

Unknown to the uncle was that the princess knew a secret passage to get out of her imprisoned room.  The princess goes on a long search throughout the kingdom for one balloon to release and call for her father.  Unfortunately, all balloons seem to have been destroyed.  Through ongoing persistence and resilience, the princess eventually finds a balloon from a wizard and plants the balloon under a magical tree that grows multiple balloons.

I adored this book as a child because of the pictures, the idea of balloons everywhere, and because the princess’ name was so similar to mine.  I eventually chose The Balloon Tree as my gift over Something From Nothing because I loved the can-do, positive attitude of the princess and the resemblance of the story to Hamlet.  Princess stories often involve the princess being helpless and needing saving but The Balloon Tree princess took control of her own situation and came out the winner.

It was a pleasure to be able to provide a gift to the expecting couple during this exciting time in their lives but I think I got a bigger gift from this activity than they did.  Thinking about what book to get provided me with the opportunity to return to a time where reading was simply for enjoyment and entertainment and also allowed me to reflect back on what made my favorite childhood books so special and how they made me feel.  It reminds me of that Maya Angelou quote,

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I couldn’t remember much of the story of Something From Nothing and The Balloon Tree at first until I did a bit of googling but I did recall how they made me feel and how much I loved them.  What are some of your favorite childhood books?

(1) As I write this, I just realized my two favorite books as a child were from the same author!