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December 15, 2011

Connie Brockway on Giving a Book to a Child

Posted by Katherine


Brockway claims to be a native of either Minnesota or New York. Neither has been confirmed. She also claims to be thirty-two. No one has even bothered looking into this. We do know she was attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota when she became involved with medical student, David Brockway. At some point they apparently legalized the relationship because when next she surfaces, she is sporting a new surname and a daughter. A decade of relative anonymity ensues– except for the infamous alien encounter photographs which have, of course, now been debunked. No substantiated records occur until 1994 when Brockway published her first book, PROMISE ME HEAVEN. Since then she has written over twenty full-length novels and anthology stories, bringing the current number of her books in print to over 1,500,000 published in thirteen countries. Brockway has twice received coveted Publishers Weekly starred reviews and unqualified recommendations from Library Journal, as well as two starred reviews from the Library Journals organ, BOOKLIST. Her 2004 title, MY SEDUCTION was named one of 2004s top ten romance by that same industry magazine. An eight time finalist for Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA award, Brockway has twice been its recipient, first in 1998 for MY DEAREST ENEMY and in 2002 for THE BRIDAL SEASON. Her books regularly appear on national and regional bestseller lists and are frequent Doubleday/Literary Guild selections. Today Connie lives in Minnesota with her husband David, a family physician, and two spoiled mutts. Here she talks about giving a book to her granddaughter for Christmas.

My family is preparing to push back from the empty plates at the Christmas table. Soon now someone will give up trying to wait out the others and start clearing gravy-smeared plates to the kitchen for the Epic Clean Up, a marathon ritual invariably following the Epic Eat All. In my new role as Grande Dame, aka Grandmama, I have exempted myself from such menial chores—at least for the day—and instead gather up the Little Her and spirit her away.

“The Little Her” is my granddaughter, just two years old and as full as a stuffed little capon, stickily glazed over like a damp sugarplum, and tuckered out from the manic unwrapping of countless toys.

In the living room, the Christmas tree’s lights sparkle in the gathering twilight, the contraband lead tinsel I hoard each year glistening from their branches. The room is hushed, the only sound the soft sigh of needles dropping, a quiet signal that Christmas is drawing to an end. Beneath the tree lay heaps of toys, some still wearing partial vestiges of wrapping paper, others with their plastic bellies hanging open, waiting for the right size batteries, still others stacked against one another, dolls and blocks, puzzles and choo-choos, slinky dogs and stuffed Tygers, all the excess a first grandchild enjoys.

She is still a little wired. Still a little turbo-charged from the festivities and in need of some gentler occupation before she allows herself to succumb to sleep. She starts wiggling to get down, but I shift her to a hip and pluck one last present from beneath the detritus of ribbons and shredded wrappings papers. Until now it’s been given only cursory attention, casually glanced over before being set aside for larger, nosier presents.

It’s a book.

Not the most exciting gift, still, worth a look, but not something likely to occupy a two-year-old intoxicated with pie and tickling, carols and laughter. Until now.

Oh, she’s been read books before, dozens of them: picture books, alphabet books, number books, baby animal books . . . .  But this book, I explain to her as we settle into the lumpy old wing back chair, this book is different. This book is a storybook .

We open the first page, carefully, reverently. The paper is thick and slickery, the sort that feels like wealth beneath your fingertips, that allows the colors of the illustrations to shimmer on the page like Christmas lights on a snowy field. And there are words. Many words, strung together. But not too many words.

 “This is a wonderful story. Listen. ‘The Lion and the Mouse,’ ” I whisper against a small, chamois soft ear.

Her eyes are wide, her straight little brows notched above her nose, unconvinced, but willing to be persuaded. She points at the page. “Who that?”

“That’s a lion.”

“He’s big.”

“That’s right.”

“What she doing?”

“Him. He’s looking for something.”

My hand covers hers, helping her turn the page. She relaxes against me, melting into my side as she studies the page. I press a kiss to the top of her head. Under the silky fluff her scalp is warm; she smells like talcum and sage stuffing.

 “Roar!” she says at the huge, great-maned animal.

We turn more pages. I watch her gaze move carefully over them as she spies the mouse’s first appearance then frowns as the lion spies him, too.

“What lion going to do?” She turns her head to regard me questioningly, concernedly, reaching up to cup my cheek in her small palm, as sweet a benediction as ever a grandmother knew. “Na-na?”

 “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”

She’s the most precious thing in the world, and she deserves the most precious gift I can give her. Which is what I’ve given her.

She’s so eager to turn the page that she tears it a little. From the kitchen erupts the sudden raucous sound of laughter mixed with louder singing, and I fervently hope my mother’s china sees another Christmas. But she is oblivious to it. She’s been gently transported, gently led into a universe of dreams and possibilities, of the far off lands and unmet friends. And just like that the world has another reader, newly minted on Christmas day.

And I’ve been privileged to witness her first steps through that far wide flung door, to hold it open for her as she takes those first magical steps. And, giving the most precious gift I can conceive, have received one even better in return.