By Hilary Levey Friedman
In a recent book review I wrote about how much stuff my kids have and wondered how we can best discuss inequality with our children. Like many parents I want to raise nice boys, who understand and know how to show gratitude.
So for my son’s first and third birthdays this year (celebrated just 10 days apart), I decided that we would have a no-gifts party. Believe me, they don’t need more things! Instead, we asked people to bring in books we would then donate. Why books? I considered other types of donations, and while coats and clothes are undoubtedly important, books are crucial when it comes to that long-term inequality.
Also, I am fundamentally a book person. We had a library themed wedding and at baby showers, brises, birthdays, etc. our favors are always bookmarks. So I searched online and found this great non-profit, Milk + Bookies, who helped me make it happen.
Milk + Bookies sent me a list of organizations in my area (Boston) in need of books and we selected Horizons for Homeless Children. Horizons shared more specific needs with us (like board books, books with Spanish and those that depict diverse families and needs, etc.) and I passed on the info to those invited to the birthday celebration.
Milk + Bookies book-raiser kit included bookmarks (Yes! Less work for me, but I then made some stickers to personalize them), stickers for kids, balloons, bookplates (our crowd was a bit young for these, so we skipped them, but would use them in the future), and tips for creating banners and other decorations.
At the party we were excited to collect 122 books, and I was even more excited that my older son, Carston, was not at all upset he didn’t get presents at his party (the youngest really didn’t understand everything going on). It probably helped that on the day of their actual birthdays they each got one present from each set of grandparents, a book from us as parents, and a gift from one another.
Still, I wondered about how to talk to Carston about why we were collecting books. Again, Milk + Bookies’ kit helped by having a sheet I could fill in with my sons’ names and how it made them feel to donate books to others. I explained that some kids didn’t have any books at home, or many toys, but that we were going to give them some. I then asked Carston how it made him feel to give the books to other kids and he promptly replied, “Happy!” (My mom heart grew three sizes). Admittedly it took a bit more doing to get him to think about how the other kids might feel—at first he thought, “sad”—but he settled again on “happy” so we went with that.
On my younger son, Quenton’s, actual first birthday we loaded everything into the car and drove into the city together. I had also purchased some “Future Philanthropist” and “Giving is Nice” shirts for the boys (a size too big so they last longer!) from Milk + Bookies.
While admittedly the shirts meant spending more money for something they didn’t “need,” I liked the idea that we can talk about the shirts and what they mean each time they wear them. Plus, more shirts with books on them is a-ok for me!
I hope this becomes a birthday tradition for our family—collecting and donating books on their birthdays—wherever we live each year. And a bonus for Mom here was that I learned about some favorite stories of friends that I will eventually add to our own home library.
What book would you donate to other kids every year if you could?
Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child, the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture, and a professor in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.