The Gift of Reading


silly billy

A guest post by Brenda Petersen (my Mom!): 

When I was five years old, in the year of 1962, I was given a precious gift of a hard covered book: a 59 cent Easy Reader.  My elderly great aunt, who was a Mennonite, was a practical kind of gal, and she did her shopping via mail order catalogs.

She did not drive, so to visit, we would need to come in from our farm to her small unassuming home, built with her own hands, in the small village in which she lived. Great Aunt Alice was a bit stern on the surface with a trace of a German accent, a small little lady in stature, who also happened to be the village tailor.  She ran the downtown tailor shop single-handedly during World War Two and later had a shop in the walkout basement of her home.  This gave her enough income to live a simple life.  She never married. Over the years her nieces and nephews as well as caring for her elderly father filled her life. Buying gifts for her great nieces and nephews was a joy for her, an equivalent of sorts to grandchildren, and that is how it felt in my heart.

The Christmas of 1962, I was thrilled to open The Adventures of Silly Billy, by Tamara Kitt.  The opening page of the now yellowed and fragile book, I still own and cherish, proclaimed that only 187 different words had been used in the 61 page Easy Reader, with plurals and root words counted once. 104 words – more than half the total vocabulary had been used at least three times.  65 words- one third of the total vocabulary had been used at least ten times.  Some words were used 43 times! None of this mattered to me upon opening this present.  In fact I am quite sure I never read that page until I was an adult. All I knew was that I was able to read it by myself with no parental help and I was thrilled!

I loved the cover picture, the story, and the illustrations by Jill Elgin! I was totally captivated by these adventures Silly Billy was having in this tale.  It seemed he was always thinking up very silly things such as feeding hens very hot, hot, hot water so they would lay hard boiled eggs. His parents said he was silly, and silly he would always be, Silly Billy!

That is until Silly Billy decides to show them he is not so silly, and he goes in search of someone sillier than himself.  He walks and walks and encounters a cast of characters along the way that are indeed sillier!  He helps them out with their silly problems and is repaid with treasures along the way, which in turn he gives to his mother and father upon his return.  However, he keeps the gold crown and proceeds to wear it at all times, including when he takes a bath.  He also instructs his parents never to call him Silly Billy; they should address him now as Wise William.  The book closes with Wise William pondering a way to make cows give chocolate milk.

I sincerely doubt that my dear aunt could have ever guessed when she sent out that mail order with her 59 cents, that this gift of a book containing a mere 187 words, would make such a lasting impression on her small, shy niece, and that fifty years later I would write of the gift.  Many times over the years this book has popped into my head, as I wonder if I am being a Silly Billy, or a Wise William!


One of the great joys of my job as a family advocate was being able to give books to children whose families who could not afford them.  I am quite certain this gift given to me as a little girl made me realize the importance of reading and imagination…and gave me the sincere desire to pass that gift along to others.

March is Reading Month…how can you make a difference in the life of a child with a gift of a book? 

Check out a new film Girls with Books: A New Global Power

Read an online book and one is donated to an organization all for free at We Give Books! 

Donate to your local school, women’s shelter, or through Better World Books. 

BrendaBrenda Petersen worked as a Family Advocate with Shelby Public Schools for 22 years. She now resides in Holland, MI with her husband Philip. Four kids call her Grandma B. 

18 thoughts on “The Gift of Reading

  1. What a wonderful (and accurate) tribute to Aunt Alice!! My favorite book is one my mom gave me. It is about a hound dog! I can still recite the entire book!

    • Jean~ I am happy you think it is a wonderful (and accurate:)tribute to Aunt Alice! What a sweet soul to buy us all gifts, bless her heart. That is so cool you can still recite the entire hound dog book, made all the more special because it was from your mom, a sweeter soul there never was!

    • Wow…never read MacLean…but thrillers at eight is impressive…did they keep you up at night?

    • Oh, yes, they kept me up! I’d read into the small hours of the morning.

      MacLean was a pretty good writer, and could tell a cracking story – but he had heart, too. ‘HMS Ulysses’ was set against the background of the convoys to Russia during WW2, and I never forgot how very cold his descriptions of the Arctic waters made me feel, nor how sad I was when favorite characters died.

    • Yes, she was very independent for a woman of her day. There were not many single women building houses and owning shops back then!

  2. Brenda,
    Your guest blog was a wonderful read. I for one have probably always been a Silly Billy. (As you already know)
    A Light In the Attic by Shel Silverstein has always been my favorite and I have had to purchased many copies over the years. Now Hunter can enjoy it as well.
    Bless you for the work you did in Shelby and for all the kids there.

    • Yes, how wonderful that you have always been a Silly Billy! I love that about you. Love Shel Silverstein’s & Light in the Attic…The cover alone is worth buying the book. Thank you for the blessing!

  3. I remember you reading to me when I was little, it made me never want to stop. Also, the giving of books, was probably the start of something in me then too, again to never stop giving. Thank you.

    • You are a blessing and I love your giving heart Lisa! We did indeed read a LOT of books over the years, it was a good thing the library was nearby!

  4. Thank you for your post, Brenda. It brought back many memories. I enjoy this site so much. It expands my heart and soul each time I read it. I especially like stories about Lisa’s personal life and her memories. It gives us a glimpse of who she is which is all good and heartfelt, like her mom. Each time I read her post I identify with her in my own heart. It encourages me to press on. It’s good to know I am not the only one with issues that are destroying my own self-esteem and/or confidence by being negative. She, very simply, points us to God. She also teaches us ways to be missionaries, helping others with ideas we can do or use in our own homes. She is, definitely, giving us the right direction using her gentle ways. Thanks to Lisa for all she does, using God as her mentor. Love that girl! Judy. (oops! got kinda long)

    • Hi Judy, thank you for your comments, and I wholeheartedly agree with you about Lisa and her blog. It is so good to share and know we are not alone. We are blessed to have you as a part of our family!

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