My three-year-old daughter, Adeline, stared open-mouthed at the stereo. She had been playing on the floor with her dollhouse, and the CD had startled her. It was a recording of the book Corduroy by Don Freeman—one of her favorite stories. I stood in the doorway and watched her reaction, trying not to laugh as she shifted her eyes back and forth between the stereo and me.
My lips weren’t moving—but it was my voice coming through the speakers.
“Mommy,” she said finally, “how are you doing that?”
I grinned back at her.
I had made the recording a few weeks earlier, as a surprise for her birthday. We were on a tight budget and couldn’t afford to buy real presents, so I had asked extended family members to record themselves reading stories to her. It felt like such a small gift—and it literally cost us nothing—but then again, Adeline loved stories. No doubt she would enjoy it.
And she did. As soon as Track 2 began, Adeline eyes lit up at the sound of Mom-Mom’s voice reading Caps for Sale. By the time Track 3 started, she had climbed into the big blue armchair and was gripping the armrest with rapt excitement as Pappy read Ellen and the Goldfish.
It had taken a couple of months to make the recording. I’d borrowed a digital voice recorder from my aunt and passed it around the extended family. Read slowly and clearly, with lots of expression, I’d encouraged them. They could pick any story they wanted.
Two months later, the project was complete. The CD contained readings by parents, grandparents, one aunt, one great-aunt, and even a great-grandmother.
When the last track ended, Adeline’s words were: “I want to hear it again!”
In that moment, I realized what we had given her.
The stories weren’t the gift.
Our voices were.
“Adeline!” my son squealed. “Adeline, listen—it’s Oma! Oma is reading on the CD player!”
Four years later, the Storybook CD is still a family favorite. I suspect that it will remain a treasured gift long after we’re gone. Because what we’ve created, I realize now, is not just a collection of stories; it’s essentially a time capsule of our family, containing what mere objects cannot: ourselves.
And the best part is, anybody can do this. Unlike so many DIY projects that require lots of materials and skill, this one simply requires you. You don’t need to be an artist. You don’t need to be good at making things. All you need is a story you love, and your own voice—and in just a few minutes, you’ll have created a gift that your child will cherish for a lifetime.
There are, of course, countless possibilities here. If physical CDs aren’t your thing, you could just make a playlist. Or you could create videos instead. You could team up with another family member to co-read a few stories. You could even act out the stories, if that’s your thing.
If you have a musician in the family, why not have that person contribute a song? My son is constantly begging Pappy to play his guitar and banjo—so instead of a storybook CD for his birthday, we’re making him a bluegrass album.
Give what you have been given. Use own your unique talents to bless your children in a way that nobody else can.
Because the story isn’t the gift. You are.
And the best gift we can ever give to our children is ourselves.
Jennifer is a freelance writer and musician living in Pennsylvania. Once an aspiring Latin teacher, she is now a stay-at-home mama of two children, and is blessed with a husband who can fix just about anything she breaks. Jennifer leads Jr. High Sunday School with her mom and loves attending musicals, giving homemade gifts, and sharing tea with good friends on the back porch.