As a volunteer reading tutor at a local elementary school, I worked with four first-graders who had special learning needs. Their progress, their enthusiasm, and their budding love of reading deserved to be rewarded, I thought. Gifts of books would be the perfect way for me to reiterate what I'd been telling them all term: I'm so very proud of you.
When I mentioned my plan to the classroom teacher, she smiled gently and said, "J.B., it's enough that you spend your time and love on the kids; you don't really have to spend money on them as well. And, frankly, it's not fair to the other 16 students."
But these were kids who had their own battles of the books, wars with learning words, and triumphs over simple sentence structure. Nothing the teacher said was going to transform me into the Christmas Grinch. If she frowned upon my gifts, then I would devise another plan.
I left school that day and treated myself to a whirlwind tour of the children's section at a nearby bookstore. I selected specific books, knowing that these books would individually interest and excite "my" kids.
I also knew that these books would be ones they could proudly read on their own, by themselves, without help.
At the end of our last tutoring session before their Christmas holiday, I brought out their books. Interestingly, their classmates didn't show a bit of envy, perhaps thinking holiday homework was involved.
No, I wasn't foolish enough to gift-wrap the adventures and poetry, humor and history, facts and fictions.
These are not gifts, I carefully explained to my foursome. They are loans.
I told my kids that I trusted them with the books, just as I trusted them to do their homework assignments, to do their best in school, and to question me if they didn't understand what I was trying to teach them.
And they understood precisely what they were getting into when they agreed to my long-term loan plan. As we all promised, I'll be meeting my kids in our classroom at 2:45 in the afternoon on the day before Christmas - in the year 3004, 100 years after the loans were made.
To me, the real gift was knowing that whether you loan a child a book forever or give it to him outright, you and the youngster are taking part in the magic called a love of reading.