I try to keep Christmas in our house fairly low-key in terms of gifts – well, as much as is possible, given the whole focus of the holiday! Olive gets one gift from Santa plus the little things in her stocking, and I give her one gift as well. She has about a million aunts and uncles and I often try to coordinate experience gifts with them (Science centre passes, days out, helping with the cost of extra-curricular activities, etc), but there’s never any shortage of gifts to open. Despite this, I have a few gift-related traditions I try to keep up each year.
First, she gets a new tree ornament each year – this year it’s this adorable handmade one from Etsy that I personalized to celebrate her hard work in Taekwondo – and second, I get her a book.
Her Christmas book is usually picked because it bears some significance to the year we’ve had – the big moments, successes, areas of focus, or even sometimes struggles.
I’ve written about my past year’s book picks here – but in case you don’t want to read a whole blog post, here’s a short list of our picks so far. It takes me a long time to choose each one, and I wholeheartedly love each of the books on this list for their drawings, stories, and the message they hold.
This year was a bit challenging because we’ve been struggling with gratitude lately and I wanted to get her a book that would underscore the very real struggle of being grateful for what you have. This isn’t the easiest thing to learn, especially when you’re surrounded by new things to want – even us adults struggle sometimes! She also sometimes gets quite focused on the idea of something being perfect, getting frustrated if a drawing or note isn’t just right.
So with this in mind, initially, I chose the Velveteen Rabbit. We haven’t read this one together yet because it’s quite text-heavy. But oh my god. Is there anyone who hasn’t laid flat by this passage?:
You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But those things don’t matter at all because once you are real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.
I love the idea of becoming real. Not perfect, but real. Real and really loved, with all the accompanying wear and tear, rather than pristine and meant to be looked at only. I love the message of unconditional love and how shiny new things always eventually lose their lustre.
While wandering around with The Velveteen Rabbit, however, I came across another book:
and I changed my mind.
If you somehow haven’t heard about Malala Yousafzai, take a second to learn about her incredible story, you won’t regret it. I included her books in my recent Guardian Gift Guide because I think her story, and the message behind it, is just so powerful.
Malala’s Magic Pencil is Yousafzai’s life’s story, retold in a simplified form for children. It begins with her childhood in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, surrounded by inequality as she slowly becomes aware of how privileged she is to attend school while other children must work scavenging metal from in trash heaps to support their families.
The story goes on to explain how Pakistan changed drastically under Taliban rule, as women and female children swiftly lost their rights and their place in society.
Rather than stay silent or accept her fate, Malala used her voice to advocate for herself and the millions of others affected by injustice. The book follows her journey to campaign for human rights both in Pakistan and across the world, and how her hard work is making a difference.
As soon as I read through this book, I knew it was the right choice.
It isn’t an easy story, but I want Olive to understand the world – even the ugly parts. I want to prepare her for it, instead of protecting her from it. I want her to understand deep in her bones how incredibly lucky she is to live the life she does and how it has been largely a fluke of race and time and country that she is able to exist in this world as she does, with so many privileges laid at her feet.
I want her to feel confident in her voice and use it to speak up for others who don’t have enough, rather than focusing on getting more for herself.
Most of all, I want her to see that with hard work and bravery and by listening to her gut and doing what’s right; she can make a difference.