A rather loud thunderstorm on Sunday afternoon got me thinking about things to which I hadn’t given two seconds of thought in years. Coffee table books! No one bothers with coffee tables anymore. They are completely passé, thank goodness! The number of times I’ve crammed my toes on the legs of those things… (My mom used to swear if I didn’t run barefoot all the time, I wouldn’t have a problem.)
When I married, I soon discovered the coffee table was a clutter catcher. It was also a great place for folding laundry. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to spend on coffee table books, and there was no point in showing off my intellectual genius, as I barely had time for such pursuits anyway. Besides most of my friends were in the same boat as I was. Furthermore, they wouldn’t have cared if I was fluent in French, found the similarities in Locke and Hume interesting, or actually knew anything about St. Francis of Assisi or the Nordic gods, or found beauty in architectural designs. We were too busy folding baby clothes.
The library became my go-to place. About once a week, I’d pack up the children and take them to the library. My oldest was just starting to seriously read and wanted more books than I could afford to buy. The library filled the gap between need and budget! Soon my oldest finished reading all the little children’s books and wanted to read the next level.
My youngest was bored! She had tipped the scale where she didn’t want baby books and still wasn’t reading well enough to read chapter books on her own. Yet she loved pictures and seemed to want to know about everything in life.
Well, it happened by accident. I had her stay with me while I went to look for a few books that I could read. Something caught her eye and she pulled out a shelved book, plopped herself in that aisle, and began to look at the pages. She discovered coffee table books! She wanted them all!
Well, the one librarian was almost appalled at the thought of a not-quite two year old even handling such expensive books. The other librarians were taken aback by her young inquisitiveness but found it charming. I’ll admit, her interest didn’t surprise me, but the idea of using such books as a way to open her world to more, did. I only allowed her to take home two, or maybe two was the limit imposed by the library.
Within the pages of those large books were beautiful photographs of the most amazing things. By the time she was three, she knew the difference between univalves and bivalves. I’d pass the seafood area in the grocery store and she wanted to help me pick out bivalves and univalves for her daddy’s dinner! I could tell her to pick out one type of univalve and two different bivalves. She sit in the cart and point, then struggle with her decisions. “May I pick out a crustacean, too?”
From deep-sea ocean beauties, to Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China, to towering redwoods, and insects of all kinds, lightning storms and cloud formations, and photos taken from outer space, back to the finest statues and paintings in the world, they can all be found within the pages of coffee table books. The photography is awesome and can make even the ugliest creepy crawly thing look fascinating. It’s a way to open a child’s world beyond an immediate setting.
In tiny bites, those books feed my young daughter’s insatiable appetite for knowledge. The incredible photography made each book a journey. Each became another block of the foundation upon which her education was built. They expanded her vocabulary by giving her scientific words that we just don’t use in normal conversation. And they did it all while she was still young.
Our electronic books and fancy little e-readers just don’t quite compare to snuggling with a child while you read through a really big book! Oh, the places you’ll go within those big picture books. I think Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr Seuss, would have heartily approved, for my daughter had learned to read from his books and their sing-song rhymes.
We have so many tools today to help our children, from television shows to computerized games. We can give our children so much more than what existed when we were children. Never has there been so much information available with a few keystrokes or the click of a few buttons. But there’s a timeless favorite of mine, those coffee table books.
And there’s nothing to compare with the scent of a child all fresh from an evening bath as they cuddle up for an evening read. And there’s nothing similar to a book where both child and parent, alike, can explore something in such detail. Scottish castles, sundials, Renoir paintings, beautiful antebellum homes of the old South, the masterpieces of Frank Lloyd Wright, or the most amazing bridges of the world, there’s a book out there filled with such pictures!
The coffee tables is gone and my toes are happy! I still have no desire to impress anyone with my interest in art or anything else that catches my fancy. In fact, buying a book for the purpose of decorating a table is beyond me. My house seems to always be bulging in books and now my Kindle probably contains more books than what remains on wooden shelves in my house. But there still room for paper books in our lives – the ones that enrich us and leave us breathless.
Don’t just read to your children, explore and learn with them! It’s never too soon to start reading to them.