My sons are both grown now but I still think back to the days when they hopped on the bed at bedtime, eager for our nightly ritual of reading together. I started reading to them when they were all of six months old. Long after they learned how to read for themselves, they both still wanted to be read to each night. There is a special magic in reading to a child—how they hang onto your every word, how they point out new insights to a story even though they’ve heard it dozens of times before, or how they can recite the text of their favourite books verbatim but they still want you to read them anyway.

With the birth of my first grandson two years ago, I made a pledge to myself that I would buy books for him every chance I got and I would read to him on every visit. Although he is impatient at times to sit for long, he always responds when I suggest—“Let’s read a book.” Upon hearing that, he immediately toddles over to his bookcase and carefully selects a book, often dumping a number of them on the floor in order to get to the exact one he wants. (Little does he know how much I also treasure our reading time as a chance to cuddle together!)

When my grandson was younger, I couldn’t wait to discover his interests through reading, whether it was dinosaurs (like his daddy), pirates, jungle animals, or whatever else took his fancy. As it turns out, he is obsessed with vehicles—cars, trucks, trains, fire engines, police cars, ambulances, buses—any transportation-themed book is sure to draw his interest. As soon as I clued into that fact, I scurried off on a mad hunt, scouring local bookshops and toy stores for any book I could get my hands on that had vehicles anywhere in it. In all honesty, I think I have scooped up every such book within the city limits.

Because my grandson is a toddler, I buy him board books; made of sturdy layered cardboard, they allow him to easily turn the page. I wouldn’t say they’re exactly bullet-proof, but they are for the most part gnaw-resistant and they can survive a lot of wear and tear. I marvel at the creativeness of today’s children’s authors. So many of the board books are interactive, stimulating a toddler’s natural curiosity—there are flaps to open, windows to slide, textures to feel, and buttons to push. Being an “old-school” elementary teacher, I scoffed at such gimmickry at first, but when I witnessed the delight with which my grandson played peek-a-boo with the flaps, or ran his hand over the fuzzy fur of a kitten, or pushed the ‘flush’ button of his potty book for the umpteenth time, I quickly realized and appreciated the value of stimulating all of a young child’s senses during the reading experience.

As my grandson gets older, I look forward to the trips we will make together to our local library branch. Purchasing books is a passion and a privilege I am now able to afford, but back when I had my own children and money was tight, we made weekly trips to the library. I hope my grandson will come to appreciate all that a library can offer him—from story times and puppet shows, to exhibits and displays, to craft and hobby programs, and most importantly, to a world of books at his fingertips. I’ll never forget the first library I took my sons to; it was a small local branch and as we approached the door, I noted the colorful poster of a character from the well-known children’s book, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. “MAGIC happens here,” it read. How very true.

One of the fondest memories I have of reading with my own sons is the summer we read The Swiss Family Robinson together. Being a fan of classic children’s literature, I proposed this epic novel and the boys readily agreed to it once I told them it chronicled the adventures of a family on a deserted island. What I didn’t know at the time was what a wonderful bonding experience it would be for the three of us. It took us all summer to read it and I enjoyed it every bit as much as they did. We all learned lessons about the challenges of survival, the ingenuity of human mind, and the importance of family. I remember we continued to talk about the book, revisiting all the different adventures, long after we had read it.

Over the years, as my sons moved into middle school, I held garage sales at which I sold most of their toys, but something I refused to let go of were all the children’s books I had acquired for them over the years. I made a point of keeping them carefully tucked away for over two decades through every move I made in the hope I would have grandchildren one day. When my grandson was born, one of the first things I did was unearth my boxes of books in my storage closet. I look at those books lined up neatly once again on my bookshelf, of all the stories and adventures they impart, and I am filled with fresh excitement at the thought of sharing them with my grandson. Which ones will be his favourites? Which ones will he learn to read first? Which ones will inspire him?

The other day as we sat reading one of his many books, my grandson suddenly pointed a chubby finger at the text on the page and asked “What’s that?” I smiled to myself, pleased he had finally noticed the words on the page along with all of the colorful illustrations. “Those are the words, and they tell the story,” I explained to him.

I await his discovery and awe of the written word, how it can free our spirits, touch our lives, and enrich our experiences of the world. As he gets older, I hope he reads stories that will make him laugh, wonder, question, imagine, and yes, even cry. If I pass anything on to him, I want it to be a love of reading.

Susan Gnucci is a local author and a proud “nonna” to an adorable two-year-old grandson. She enjoys sharing her experiences as a first-time grandparent.