I have been called a romantic at times. I've also been called a cheap date. It can't be helped.
So much of life is perspective.
I admit that I fool around with romantic notions--as well as price--when choosing gifts to tuck into a suitcase for children I meet in travels. Many surprises come from bookstores or paper goods shops.
Just as rock music blasts past language barriers, so do the images of childhood.
Balls and wheels are as magical to 18-month-old Japanese youngsters as they are to their Finnish counterparts. There are balls of cloth to brighten a crib and beach balls of vinyl that pack flat before inflation. There are wooden balls that twist open to reveal smaller balls of rainbow colors.
Wheels are of a high order, whether they spin in tiny trucks carved by Vermont artisans or interlock in Indian puzzles. I've found several small books in which hard rubber wheels become the tires of school buses, trash trucks and fire engines as pages are turned. Their whirl has international intrigue.
Relaxing Rhythm of Words
Not long ago I took the last short-legged chair at a round table in the children's alcove of a book shop. Two smaller readers looked up briefly, but did not stare. I tucked my knees to one side and read the hypnotic tale, "Goodnight Moon."
The rhythm of the words, the serene illustrations with their deep indigos and changing light were, as always, relaxing. This book by Margaret Wise Brown was written 40 years ago. It has enchanted children that I've met from Mazatlan to Madras to Milwaukee. It is a book to grow on, with pictures that inspire homespun tales. I bought two copies.
Children's books come in cloth and washable plastic. They may be read and chewed and loved.
Others of my favorite take-alongs--such as "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and "The Very Busy Spider"--touch with enough sensitivity to make the daughter of a French country innkeeper laugh as merrily as a youngster living on a kibbutz east of Jerusalem.
Some books for children have no words at all, yet they tell worlds about dogs and horses and birds and trees and America.
A book can be a love gift to a family, a joy to be shared around an Irish hearth after the bed-and-breakfast guests finally say good night.