IT seemed, at the time, a sweet wheeze but now we're 13 years down the line and the seemingly small task I set myself has become a slightly overwhelming employment.

Joyous though, because it involves books and everything involving books is joyous. Well, that's not quite true. My statistics course at uni involved books and that was emphatically joy-sapping.

Anyway, books. When my first nephews were born I thought it might be a nice idea to pledge to buy them a book for every birthday and every Christmas, whether the boys liked it or not.

They're inexplicably teenagers now and I've never missed. Nor have I missed for all the children of all the other close friends with wee ones who call me auntie Cat.

Initially, when there were only the two boys to buy for, it was easy. Then they both became big brothers and that was ok too because four books a year is nothing. Now my fecund friends have provided me with an excess of niblings and the jig is a full time job.

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When one doesn't have any children of one's own, one starts to think about legacy – what memories will I leave behind and who will be the ones to remember them? Of course, I could just write my own book but that seems an awful lot of work.

This could be my thing, I thought. "God," they'd all say as they gathered at my funeral, "Remember all those books?" Perhaps by then they'd realise the whole thing was an expression of love, rather than a weird compulsion or a lack of imagination.

Children's books have changed since I read them for myself. I was raised on the Chalet School novels by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer and then, by contrast, all the iterations of the Sweet Valley books, of which I will not hear a word against. All the classics, too, and then straight on to adult fiction at quite a young age.

Before these, Mog, wonderful Mog, and Beatrix Potter picture books.

The benefit of buying books for modern young readers is learning who the modern writers are and spending hours in bookshops pouring over their output.

Thanks to this I've become slightly nuts about Oliver Jeffers and Jon Klassen. My friends' little boy had been the recipient of Klassen's I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat in rather quick succession.

When I went to visit a few months ago my friend told me that my small pal had seemed unusually concerned at the news of my visit. "Oh no," he'd said in response, which is not the sort of welcome I'd hope for. Asked what was wrong, he said: "Has someone else lost their hat?"

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While being told this cute anecdote, as I slipped my coat off in the kitchen, I was holding a wrapped hardback of We Found a Hat and wasn't sure whether to hand it over or not.

The moral there is that no matter what we, the adults, hope our influence on children will be, we can't control their interpretation. But isn't that the whole point of books? We can't control their interpretation.

We shouldn't want to. We also shouldn't want to force reading on children who don't like to read; like my English Literature degree, compulsion is nothing but off-putting.

I'd hope, dearly hope, that by having books around they might be tempted to pick them up one day.

In the meantime, their parents can read to them, with all the multifaceted benefits for child and grown up. When you read with a wee one you share a particular experience with them. When you do the voices of the characters and fill in the story with your own twists and takes, you're letting them see another side of you.

You're also letting them express what's inside their creative minds. It's an oxytocin boost for you both, not to mention giving reassurance, confidence and self-esteem.

Social media is designed to be frenetic and fast while books help boost concentration and the ability to sit for long spells.

"The one way of tolerating existence," Flaubert had it, "Is to lose oneself in literature." Given we're talking about children's literature here I'm not going to finish that quote but you can look it up.

Reading, research shows, also helps you prolong existence. Those who read books – specifically books – for 30 minutes a day live longer than those who don't.

When I first read about this I wondered if it wasn't one of those silly reports where causation and correlation as distinct spurs are ignored. You'd imagine a home well furnished with books to be a middle class home well furnished with so many other life prolonging accoutrement.

Apparently not, apparently it's the way it engages your brain and so the cognitive benefit boosts a person's lifespan.

Books give children information and entertainment. They give them – much like TV dramas but much better than TV dramas – something to talk about with their friends and family. They teach them how to cope with hardship and happiness; demonstrate morality without sanctimony.

Books let you realise you are, in fact, ordinary but in that ordinariness comes solidarity and fellow feeling. Rather than being unique yet alone, books show children there are others just like them who are experiencing the same highs and hindrances.

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Adults know this. Parents and carers know this more than most. A lack of books in the home is not down to a lack of knowledge about the importance of reading. It's all to do with society ignoring these benefits.

Public libraries have been closed at horrifying rates; school libraries have suffered from straitened education budgets. Following the coronavirus lockdowns, book sales and reading rates soared but a survey from the National Literacy Trust earlier this year showed that benefit among children and young people is now gone as they returned to other activities.

Think about books. You take 26 letters and with those you build a universe, 26 letters only and you can make yourself dizzy on the infinite universes.

That's the gift I want to give the children in my life because it was the most precious gift given to me. Maybe they'll appreciate it, maybe they won't. But God, they'll say, remember all those books?

Working with Scottish Book Trust, The Herald is asking you, our readers, to donate money to help buy books for children whose families are using food banks this winter. See to help