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Birthday Gnomes

Today is my birthday! When I realized that my birthday also fell on a UDPL blog day, I knew that I wanted to tie the two things together, but I wasn’t exactly sure how. I considered writing about birthday themed books like Gary Goldschneider’s The Secret Language of Birthdays or Helen Oxenbury’s It’s My Birthday, but while they’re both great books, I didn’t think they’d make a great blog. I thought about listing books on my birthday wish list, but any of my suggestions would immediately be forgotten in all the excitement surrounding tomorrow’s publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. But thinking about books that I’d like to receive made me think about the many beautiful and special books I’ve received on birthdays past. One in particular stands out.

On my 8th birthday, my father gave me a copy of Wil Huygen’s Gnomes. I was obsessed with the Nickelodeon cartoon The World of David the Gnome and my father thought I’d enjoy owning the book the series was based on.   He was absolutely right! The book is a fictional field guide to gnomes with handwritten notes on their history and habits. At eight, I knew of course that gnomes weren’t real, but that didn’t stop me from spending hours laying in the grass and hoping to catch sight of one. I read through the book constantly, memorizing sections of it and boring everyone with my vast gnome knowledge. Before long, the pages were tattered, the cover worn, and the binding broken. I loved that book fiercely, even as I grew out of childhood and into a young adult.

Just after my 17th birthday, I moved to The Netherlands to do an intensive language study. I didn’t have much room in my luggage for books, but nevertheless, Gnomes came with me. A Dutch friend pulled it from my suitcase when helping me unpack and asked “Did you know that Wil Huygen lives nearby?” I had no idea that the book I loved so much wasn’t originally written in English and I was completely shocked to find out that I had just moved to the homeland of the gnomes! It was comforting to know an important part of my childhood was going to become an important part of my new life. Learning a new language can be difficult, but I did my best and the first book I read in Dutch was an Easy Reader version of Gnomes written for very young children. By the time I left to move back to Pennsylvania, I was nearly fluent and could read Gnomes in both English and Dutch. I came home with Dutch copies of many of Huygen’s books and an even deeper love for gnomes and their stories.

When Gnomes was originally published in English in 1977, it spent more than a year as a New York Times bestseller. Because of this, many homes have had Gnomes on their shelves. The library frequently receives donated copies. Every time I see one, I can’t help but pick the book up and grin. I’m tempted to “adopt” every donated copy, but I always resist – partly because I already own multiple copies, but mostly because I hope that someone else will discover Gnomes while browsing in the Friends’ book sale. I hope every copy finds a new home and an enthusiastic reader.

Gnome Collage