Last December, I was honored to be asked to participate in Just The Right Book’s Best Book Gift Holiday Author series. Authors including James Patterson, Iris Krasnow, Michael Connelly, Gina Barreca, and I wrote short pieces in response to the question:

What is the best book gift you ever received for Christmas or Hanukah?

Here’s what I wrote!

Every Christmas, my sister and I give each other hard-to-find or especially cherished gems from our childhood. My favorite book gift was one Claire gave me about 10 years ago, a few years after I’d had my first child and begun working as an English professor. As I tore open the wrapping paper and saw the familiar green & golden cover of the original edition of Eleanor Estes’ The Witch Family, I was instantly transported back to the summer of 1979, when we first read this book over and over again & endlessly enacted pretend scenarios inspired by it. The story of two best friends, Amy and Clarissa, “ordinary real girls” who love to draw and tell stories about characters they invent, and whose belief in their imaginative creations blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, spoke powerfully to me and Claire, two “ordinary real girls” who believed our Paddington Bears were living, breathing members of our family and spent most of our waking hours either engrossed in novels or engaged in creative play. At some point when we became teenagers, my mother had given the book away, and I’d longed for it for years.

Claire’s gift of this beloved and influential book simultaneously attested to the persistence of our childhood bond and affirmed the sanctity of imagination and unfettered imaginative exploration. It reminded me, at a time when I was feeling downtrodden by the competitiveness and aridity of academia, why I’d chosen to study and teach literature: because I passionately loved words and stories, characters and imagination. It reassured me in the midst of all my new parent exhaustion and anxiety that though I was now an adult and a parent, I need not give up the freshness of perception and faith in magic that had characterized my childhood. The Witch Family has since been re-released in spanking new editions, but I will always treasure the worn, well-loved book whose flap copy celebrates “a story that is exciting, humorous, wholly original, and marvelously unpredictable, in which the worlds of reality and fantasy blend into an unforgettable whole.” Unforgettable indeed.

Roxanne Coady, owner of RJ JULIA BOOKSELLERS (one of the best indie bookstores in the world), is the owner/founder of Just The Right Book, an online book subscription service that offers the independent bookstore shopping experience online and virtually.