Will Schwalbe, author of the incredibly moving memoir THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB, recalls the list of books that his goddaughter (who was 10 at the time) wanted for Christmas and his ensuing trip to the New York City children’s bookstore Books of Wonder, where he hoped to fulfill her very specific requests.
I’m very lucky to have godchildren who are voracious, insatiable, adventuresome readers. When they were extremely young, I bought them my favorite board and picture books. As they got older, I sought advice from their parents so I would avoid giving them books they’d already read. But one of my godchildren reads so much that not even her mother or father knew what she’d already devoured. So for Christmas one year, when she was about 10, I asked her to give me a list of books she’d recently read and also asked her for a little bit of guidance about what kind of book she might like. She didn’t hesitate to let me know, and she was very specific.
“I love to read books about kids whose parents have died or disappeared,” she said. “Especially if that happens right at the start, or even before the book begins, and then the kid has to go on some kind of trip or journey and overcome a lot of things.”
“I’ll do my best to find something,” I promised her, not entirely sure I would succeed. I then hightailed it over to a wonderful New York City children’s bookstore called Books of Wonder. And I accosted the first bookseller I saw, a woman in her 20s.
“I’m looking for a book to give as a gift to a 10-year-old; I’m hoping to find a novel about a kid whose parents have died or disappeared, either early in the book or before the book starts; and it should involve a journey or a quest. Do you have any suggestions?”
The bookseller looked at me, smiled, and waved her arm in a big circle. “Basically,” she said, “that describes half the books in the store.” And of course she was right. “It’s the greatest fear most kids have,” she continued. “They need to know they could survive it and they like to see how.”
She then pointed me towards several options, including, of course, the first Harry Potter, which had just been published. (I would love to say the copy I bought was a first edition, but it wasn’t. If it had been, it might have paid for a chunk of my goddaughter's education.)
All my godchildren are now all grown up. I still buy them books. And I continue to follow this goddaughter’s lead with great success when choosing books for the young children of friends. Though now, as then, I don’t always share with the parents the reason for my selections.