Christmas 1988 was shaping up to be memorable for all the wrong reasons. My parents had had the wild idea to celebrate this holiday with Grandma and Grandpa Jack at their new home in Daytona Beach, Florida. We spent two days driving south from New York in the big van and arrived cranky. It was hot. At Disney World, my 4-year-old brother disappeared for 45 minutes, and I, 6, worried aloud, with great frequency, that he’d been kidnapped. (Stranger danger was still a thing. I watched the nightly news.) As far as I can remember, it was the first time my mother said a cross word to me.

My brother, who was apprehended by park employees while attempting to climb the mountain on Tom Sawyer Island, was bungee-cord handcuffed to me for the rest of the trip. There would be no autonomy for Christmas. And very worst of all, no snow.

To say I didn’t greet Christmas morning with high hopes is a bit of an understatement. But everything changed when my mother handed me a package wrapped in red and gold. The present-shakers among us always know when we’re getting a book (rectangular, smaller than a breadbox, doesn’t rattle) but we never know what book it will be. What world will it uncover? Will the words make my brain dance? What characters will I come to love? Will it make me laugh?

This particular book happened to be the first Michael Hague–illustrated edition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Hardcovered, dust-jacketed, orange end-papered, glorious: It was a real big-kid book. When I randomly opened to a full-page watercolor of the White Witch astride her sleigh, I almost lost my tiny mind. There was my snow! The rest of the day was spent accompanying Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy on their magical adventure: pure bliss

This present changed more than the course of that Christmas vacation. The idea that I was a worthy recipient of a fancy, gold-foiled, cloth-covered book—that I would be able to read, understand, and take good care of it—made me want to rise to the challenge. Once I proved those things to myself, I could believe that no book was impenetrable and that I might make reading a focus of my life.

The possibility that I could do something similar for another eager reader is why there’s no need to shake a holiday gift from me. Guess what? It’s a book.  

Editor at large Megan Labrise hosts the Fully Booked podcast