"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
February 4, 2013
For the Love of Words
by Melissa Howell

The first item I ever purchased for my children-to-be was a book.

There I was, standing in a bookstore in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, during some down time on a business trip, when this darling book called out to me, demanding that I buy it. I was single, I had no serious prospects of marriage or family on the horizon, but I just had to have this book for someday.

“Mama, Do You Love Me?”, with its timeless story about a mother’s love for her children, and its beautiful, colorful, warm illustrations of native Alaskan life, now resides happily on my daughter’s bookshelf. It has been a staple in our reading rotation, and now and then she’ll ask me – right out of the blue and at the most random times – “Mama, do you love me?”

I’ll jump right in and answer, “Yes I do, Dear One. I love you more than the raven loves his treasure, more than the dog loves his tail, more than the whale loves his spout.”

And then she’ll wrap her arms around me and give me a sweet kiss on the cheek, happy and secure in my love.

I didn’t set out with a determination that a book would be the first purchase I ever made with my future children in mind, but I am glad that’s how it turned out. Of all the things I can introduce my children to in their young lives, books and the joy of reading is one of the most important acquaintances I can help them make. Whether it’s a story to help my kids know they are loved, or a way to learn more about a subject in which they are interested, or an outlet to escape to far away places and go on exciting adventures, books are key to so many good things: imagination, intelligence, knowledge, success, creativity, language development, and much more.

It thrills me to watch very young children who know precisely how to handle a book: how to hold it, how to turn its pages – a parent who reads to their children from the beginning gives them a gift of unimaginable proportion.

Have you ever tried to read as many books as a child will bring to you, not putting a limit on it? I tried, once. My daughter was a toddler, maybe 2 or thereabouts. I decided I would see how vast was her desire to keep reading. I allowed her to bring me book after book after book. It was somewhere in the upper 20s that I had to cut her off. I had tired of it. She had not.

A typical bedtime routine in our family includes reading time (it helps that most of them have required nightly reading for school), during which I often smile at the stages of reading that go on around me, with 4 little noses – some of them heavily freckled, all of them cute – buried into a variety of books.

My two-year-old has an ever-changing inner circle of book besties, which he works very hard to memorize, following along as best he can as I read to him. This age thrives on the repetition of words, phrases, even entire books.

My five-year-old, an emerging reader, utters each sound aloud, pausing every few moments to spell out a word for me to help him with, mindless to what other activities with which I might be previously engaged.

My seven- and nine-year-old are lost in the midst of a chapter book, oblivious to the world around them.

I popped into my kids’ school recently for a quick meeting, and the first thing I saw when I passed through the front doors was my daughter’s first-grade classroom, lined up neatly outside of the library, ready to explore the Scholastic book fair. Each pair of little hands gripped a clipboard with a piece of paper secured to it, and a pencil in hand.

“We’re going to make our book fair wish lists!” my daughter excitedly reported when she saw me.

Funny. I had worked a shift at the book fair earlier in the week and had my own wish list. There are so many beautifully illustrated, wonderfully written children’s books to be had! I’m not gonna lie; there are some books my kids will bring to me to read that elicit a groan (which I’m quite sure never actually surfaces), but others I secretly hope will be chosen.

I never tire of the cadence, rhyming and illustrations of Karma Wilson’s Bear books (“Bear Wants More,” “Bear Snores On,” and the like), which is a good things because all of my children – especially my boys – have fallen hard for these charming, delightful books. They are a constant in my two-year-old’s current rotation.

When one of my kids pulls out “Go, Dog. Go!” I am immediately whisked back to my childhood. I smile when my kids insist that it’s a lollipop rather than a checker piece one of the dogs is balancing on his finger when three dogs are at a party on a boat at night. I was convinced of that same thing until as an adult I discovered my error.

The library is among my most favorite of places, but I think many benefits can be had by amassing a library at home as well, even if it is simply a child’s bookshelf in the corner of a bedroom. There is something about an easy access to a variety of books that just is good for everyone.

My dear friend Elizabeth started the tradition when she became a mother of buying a book for her children every year for New Year’s Day, writing the child’s name, the current year and a small message in each book. Such a great idea -- this special collection of books that show how a child grows and where his or her interests lead throughout the years. I sure wish I had thought of that idea myself.

Some additional ways in which to build a book collection for your little ones:

  • Register for books or have a book-themed baby shower.

  • Buy books for low prices at garage sales or thrift stores.

  • Check our your library’s used book sale; our library has an ongoing used book sale shelf, often with some great finds.

  • Purchase books through your school’s Scholastic book orders.

  • Have book swaps with friends, bringing together books that children have tired of – they will be new treasures to another child.

  • Make books a part of your birthday/Christmas gift giving. There’s a gift-giving philosophy (it has made many appearances on Pinterest especially) that advises to purchase “something they want, something they need, something they can wear, something they can read.” Smart advice.

  • Suggest a book when a family asks for gift ideas.

When one of my kids uses the words, “Mama, do you love me?” I know they already know the answer, and love hearing it re-affirmed. But what I hope they’ll someday come to know is that one of the ways they will understand the depth of my love is because I gave them one of the greatest gifts of all: a love of words.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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