Just like Son and Daughter, I, too, had a lot of books when I was a kid. When I moved out, the books got to stay on the shelves for a while for the first few summers I returned home, and then they were taken to storage, and then, with a few exceptions, they were gone.
Among the exceptions, there are a few hockey books – biographies of Tretiak, Kharlamov, and Gretzky – the collected fairytales of H.C. Andersen, The Story of Robin Hood by John Finnemore, and The Coral Island by Robert M. Ballantyne.
I’ve read all of them dozens of times over the year. The hockey biographies are always fascinating, and now that even the latest one of them is more than 25 years old, they also serve as interesting time capsules. I’ve read Andersen’s fairytales to both Son and Daughter as well – every time pointing out the date of the inscription from my godmother because it makes me a five-year-old with a huge brick of a book – and they, too, now have their favorites.
I started to read Robin Hood to Son when he was about seven, but he thought the first chapter was too scary. Surprisingly, the Coral Island has been a tough sell as well.
A couple of years ago, when Son was all about pirates and Captain Jack Sparrow, I thought he might like a book like the Coral Isiand so I pulled it out of the shelf triumphantly, and told he was about to hear the greatest adventure story ever written. When I opened it, I found two notes inside, parts I and II of my fifth-grade book report. Part I was my review of the book, part II my fact sheet on the author, Robert M. Ballantyne.
What’s not to like about a “story of three boys who sign onto a ship called ‘The Arrow’” who then “pass the infamous Cape Horn without incident but as soon as the ship makes its way to the coral islands of the Pacific, a storm breaks and the three friends, Jack, Peter, and Ralph, are shipwrecked and end up stranded on a small island they call the Coral Island.”
Nothing, I say, but I guess there’s something about Dad recommending a book he likes that makes kids suspicious. And sure, how could it be a great book if I had liked it, but that’s why some books are classics, right? That’s what I told Son.
“Fine, what’s it about?” he asked me, and I read the first paragraph of my one-page book report again.
When Son said nothing, I read the last paragraph, the real hook:
“Will they make it? Only one way to find out,” I said. “Right? What do you say?”
“Fine, I’ll give it 30 pages,” he said, got under the blanket, and waited for me to read.
We read a few pages that night, and a few pages later that week, but by the next week, he started to suggest other books for us to read.
“But what about the Coral Island? Ralph?”
“Nah,” he said.
And that was that. Or that’s what Son thought.
Yesterday, as we were packing for a road trip we’re about to take, Son was looking for a good book. I went to the book shelf and pulled out a Sherlock Holmes book, an Agatha Christie mystery, and the Coral Island and put them on the pingpong table in the basement.
“Hey, Son,” I said, “here are a couple of great books for you to choose from.”
“Nah,” he said.
“Oh, come on, you love Sherlock and Poirot is always great,” I said, not wanting to draw his attention to the third book on the table.
He pushed Sherlock and Poirot away, leaving the Coral Island where I had put it, between those two. My heart was racing. Was he really going to choose it? I decided to sell it one more time so I pulled out my school report, those two notes between the pages, and read out loud, once again:
“… as soon as the ship makes its way to the coral islands of the Pacific, a storm breaks and the three friends, Jack, Peter, and Ralph, are shipwrecked and end up stranded on a small island they call the Coral Island. Will they make it? Only one way to find out,” I said, and put the book and the notes back on the pingpong table.
Son looked at me and said, “Thanks. Maybe some other time.”
I wonder if Daughter would like it. Only one way to find out.