Skip to main content


December 9, 2014

Katherine Reay: On Gifts and Great-Aunts

Posted by Lincoln

Like her second novel, LIZZY & JANE, Katherine Reay's Holiday Author Blog is all about family. How do parents --- and great-aunts --- shape kids' lives? Through books, of course! The holidays are the perfect time to inspire reluctant readers with a specially chosen gift. Whoever it comes from, the right book can give shape to an idle afternoon or Christmas morning, and will surely last longer than the latest meme.

I’ve always been a reader and true believer in the transformative power of fiction. As C.S. Lewis claimed MacDonald’s PHANTASTES “baptized [his] imagination,” he did the same for me. At a young age, I discovered the joy and freedom of getting lost in an imaginary world: I fought beside Edmund Pevensie; I sat out the dance with Elizabeth Bennet; I cringed with Jane Eyre when she finally entered that attic; and I solved countless mysteries with Sherlock Holmes. Writers new and old enthralled me, and there was not a time that I wasn’t reading at least one book for pleasure.

But this love wasn’t naturally instilled in my kids. Despite my reading to them constantly as young children, they don’t often turn to a book in a quiet or --- I dread to use the word --- bored moment.

And yet, at Christmastime, this changes. My aunt gives each child a book every year and, for a moment, they become absorbed in a story, in a gift, and they are swept away. It’s a beautiful tradition, and the books she selects are treasures, such as THE SECRET GARDEN, in which the drawings are as exquisitely wrought as the words. Gorgeous picture books like Eilenberg and Barrett’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and McClure’s TOM FINGER have now given way to spectacular editions of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, HEIDI, LITTLE WOMEN and others. And my kids, who regard most things as having the life span of deli meats or an iPhone App, adore these books, savor their words and pictures, shelve them in special corners of their rooms and anticipate next year’s gift.

Each year, I watch and smile. I never say much because that is the surest way to end the magic --- endorse it. But these Christmas stories are changing my children, year by year. They are invited into new tales of adventure, new worlds and new ways of looking at life, relationships and humanity. They are also invited into a deeper relationship with a great-aunt --- and that’s transformative, too.