A grandfather reads to his grandson from an encyclopedia.

My dad reads to my nephew from an encyclopedia.

By Mandy Webster

My dad read to us a lot when I was growing up. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of him reading the entire Little House on the Prairie series to us four kids as we gathered around him on his and our mom’s bed or in a circle on the living room floor.

Whenever we would ask Dad a question about something, anything really, he would say, “Go get the encyclopedia.”

Dad would make us think about what word we needed to look for, and which letter of the encyclopedia we needed to bring to him. And then, he would have us help find the word in the big, heavy book before finally reading the encyclopedia entry to us.

I remember our first outdated set of encyclopedias, and what a huge excitement it was when Dad decide it was time to replace them. Our encyclopedia sales rep was well known to our family, as she was a substitute teacher who had sat in for many of my own regular teachers.

We kids thought it was so cool to visit Mrs. Niccum’s beautiful house in town, where she showed us all of the shiny new books that she had. We were so excited when the books finally came in. And, even though they were expensive, our dad never minded that we put our grubby little paws (as he would say) all over their slick new pages.

Of course, we have the world at our fingertips on the Internet today, but looking stuff up on the internet just isn’t the same as figuring out which encyclopedia you need, pulling out the thick tome, blowing off the dust (because we only dusted once a year, if even!) and sitting next to Dad to listen to him read about panda bears (as my father is reading to my nephew at right) or whatever subject we had asked about on that particular occasion.

When my kids ask me questions about the world, I sometimes look up the answer for them online, but the experience is nowhere near as wondrous. Most kids today wouldn’t have a clue what an encyclopedia is, let alone how to look something up in one. My own children’s father has probably never read them a book. For the longest time, our older son thought his father didn’t know how to read.

I’ve always read to my sons at bedtime, and even attempted to read the Little House on the Prairie books to my older son at one time. But, he just never seemed to be interested in the stories. It seemed as though the scenarios described in the books were just too foreign for him to comprehend.

I took the kids to Old World Wisconsin once for Laura Ingalls Wilder Days, and they seemed to enjoy the experience. We sewed together a couple of nine-patch squares which we later used in a quilt that we made together as a family. The kids were interested in the old-time exhibits, but like so many kids these days, they were even more interested in getting to the gift shop at the end.

I’ve thought about buying a set of encyclopedias. That is, if they still make them. But, where would I put them? My bookshelves are already bulging. But, even if they weren’t, who even makes bookshelves strong enough to hold a set of encyclopedias anymore? The shelves I have now are buckling under the weight of my favorite books, despite the fact that I carefully place the heaviest books on the ends next to the shelf supports.

I wonder sometimes if my children really will live in a world without real books someday. But then, I remember my grandma’s collection, which my family carted from one apartment to the next as she moved around in her later years. My dad and uncle teased me about my collection when I moved, saying it reminded them of moving Grandma around.

I seem to have inherited this love of books, so maybe at least one of my children or grandchildren will share in this passion as well. I can tell you one thing for sure: as long as I’m around, the kids in my life will always have books to read.

Amanda L. Webster