My first dictionary was a small, paperback copy of the New Merriam-Webster Pocket Dictionary with a red and white cover.

My first dictionary was a small, paperback copy of the New Merriam-Webster Pocket Dictionary with a red and white cover.
And, although I received several other presents under the tree that year that I liked, the dictionary was my favorite. Some eleven year old girls might not have appreciated the gift but I adored it. We spent Christmas 1972 at my Granny's house in my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri and it was the year that we wouldn't have had a Christmas tree without my Uncle Roy but that's another story.
This story, however, is about my uncle because my grandmother sent him out to buy presents that year due to cold weather and deep snow. Granny's usual gifts for grandchildren were some type of clothing along with a color book and a fresh box of crayons. I received those expected items but there was more, a doll and the dictionary.
Even at that age I scribbled stories and dreamed about becoming a writer.
What surprises me now, these many years later, is that my uncle knew that and bought me the ideal present for a budding writer.
I carried that dictionary with me to school and I read it, with the avid interest most people reserve for a novel. I explored language with it and learned new words. I enjoyed it so much that a few years later, my maternal grandmother bought me a larger, hardback college dictionary. My first dictionary was lost in a tornado that destroyed our home in 1975 but I still have my big dictionary. And, I still love words and language.
I've received many books for Christmas in my life and still savor books as gifts.
That's why a tradition in Iceland appeals to me so much I might just adopt it. In Iceland, there is a decades old tradition of giving books as Christmas gifts. The gifts are shared on Christmas Eve and it's customary to spend the night reading. Icelandic residents have a deep appreciation for books. So many books are released sold prior to the holiday that it's known as the Christmas Book Flood.
Iceland, a nation of just over 300,000 people, has more books published and read each year than any other nation on earth.
Statistics reveal that 90% of Icelanders read at least one new book each year for pleasure. In comparison, just 72% of Americans read a single book last year. I think I'm safe to say my reading numbers are well above that average but I know there are many who don't read. We are a family of readers but during my substitute teaching years, I met many students who didn't like to read. Once they got past the reading goals in elementary school, many seldom read a book they weren't required to read for school. To me, that's sad but I encouraged at least a few to give reading a chance and when they got hooked, I could smile.
I recently covered a special graduation at the Neosho Newton County Library where eight young children graduated from the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program. The graduates were pre-schoolers but their parents and families had read at least 1,000 books to them. That instills a love of reading that will last a lifetime.
Maybe every eleven year old kid wouldn't appreciate a dictionary and fewer still would probably read the thing from cover to cover but I do believe books are an excellent Christmas gift, whether or not you live in Iceland or the United States of America.
I've written a few Christmas themed books as well. I didn't have a new one this year but all of my Christmas titles are still available for e-readers everywhere.
I image I will be reading during the Christmas holiday and gifting books as well.
I like the tradition in Iceland and I just may adopt it as my own.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good book!


Lee Ann Murphy is a staff writer and writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.