It’s National Reading Day. I believe we should all celebrate by taking the rest of the day off to read more books. If that doesn’t work for you, I want to share a great article from Charles Blow at The New York Times called “Reading Books Is Fundamental,” a follow up to my previous post. It brings tears to my eyes when he talks about his first experience buying something for himself–a book. “That was the beginning of a lifelong journey in which books would shape and change me, making me who I was to become.” It also brings tears to my eyes when he talks about how few people read books today.
Was there a children’s book or series of books that made you a dedicated reader? A life-changing book? Was there a book that made you wish you could go explore the story in person? Share your favorite children’s book below in the comments section.
If you love to read, chances are you were lucky enough to have someone who read to you early in your life. I remember how special it felt to cuddle up next to an adult and open the pages of a book and listen to the stories. Like Marco, the young fisherman in my favorite book, Dr. Seuss’s McElligot’s Pool, who gazed into the pool and imagined all sorts of
fabulous creatures, I felt like there was just no telling what you might find in in the pages of each new book.
Reading leads to a richer life, beyond imagination and entertainment. Children who are read to become skillful readers themselves. Skillful readers do better in school. In fact, if you want your children to do well on their SATs, make sure they read a lot. Even more basic, reading plays a crucial role in brain development and language skills. As I mentioned in a previous post about the children’s literacy program at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, studies show that low reading skill and poor health throughout life are clearly related.
Finally, the stories that we read at an early age connect us to each other, set the stage for our curiosity about other people, other places, and open us to the larger world. For children’s reading advocates it’s intuitive, but scientific studies have recently shown a link between reading and empathy. That’s why I’m excited that that Minneapolis author Kate DiCamillo has been named a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux will work to raise awareness of issues related to reading and children’s literacy. She recently told the PBS NewsHour, “I want to remind people of the great and profound joy that can be found in stories, and that stories can connect us to each other, and that reading together changes everybody involved. …Story is what makes us human.”
But enough of the serious stuff. Children’s books are fun, even for adults. When I was in New York City in December, I got a chance to literally wander through the pages of several classic children’s books in a terrific exhibit at the New York Public Library. On display until March 23 their exhibit, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Book Matter” draws on the library’s collections to present literature for children and teens against a sweeping backdrop of history, the arts, popular culture, and technological change. They’ve created an Good Night Moon room, which was clearly a favorite with the young adults I saw
wandering the exhibit. According to NYPL, “The books and related objects on view reveal hidden historical contexts and connections and invite second looks and fresh discoveries. They suggest that books for young people have stories to tell us about ourselves, and are rarely as simple as they seem.”
Reading entertains us, teaches about ourselves and others, transports us in our minds to places we’ve never been and often inspires us to go to those places in the real world. So for many of us, its hard to imagine living in a home without books. It’s especially hard to imagine raising children without the art, imagination, rhyme, and humor of children’s books. But more importantly, reading plays a crucial role in brain development, language skills and many other factors that affect a child’s success in school. Studies show a clear link between low reading skill and poor health throughout life.
That’s why a percentage of holiday season sales of my book (through the end of the year), Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways, will go to a terrific organization, the Children’s Literacy Program at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. The program’s Book Buddy volunteers read to children in doctors’ waiting rooms, and they create bilingual books by inserting translated text into English books. They also put together the Books for Babies packets so that almost every child born at Hennepin County Medical Center is welcomed with a book in their home language. HCMC is also a Reach Out and Read site, part of a national program that makes literacy promotion a standard part of pediatric primary care so children receive books during their doctor visits. Approximately 87 percent of the children served at HCMC are from low-income households and many would not have books at all if not for this program.
It’s not that these parents don’t care about reading. Says HCMC Children’s Literacy Liaison, Lynn Burke, “Our patients’ resources are so limited, books are just not a priority. One parent, with tears in his eyes tried to give a book back because he thought he would have to pay for it and he couldn’t afford it. Our doctors and staff explained that the books we give are always free and belong to the patient, that is, we aren’t loaning books to our families, we are giving books to them.” In fact the program distributes 30,000 children’s books annually.
Burke offers this story from a Book Buddy volunteer: “Yesterday, a 5-year-old was with me for about 90 minutes. He was delightful and bright and curious and very funny. When I got up to leave, I thanked him for reading with me. He replied, ‘You’re welcome. Are you going to miss me?’ I assured him I would and told him I hoped he would have his turn with the doctor soon. He said, “Oh, I saw the doctor a long time ago. I told Papa I wanted to read with you so he’s been waiting to take me home.” That kind man had sat patiently for over 90 minutes AFTER they saw the doctor so his son and I could read.”
One HCMC physician said, “I see families eager to bring in kids for their well visits since they know the kids will also get a book and that we will talk with them about what we see in their child’s development while we interact over the book. I see sibs asking, “Can I bring home a book, too?” and we find them one of our stash of gently used books that docs bring in from home, thrift shops, and the hospital’s warehouse of gently used books. I’ve seen parents that were not getting their kids in for regular vaccinations or well visits start coming regularly to their scheduled well visits because there is something to look forward to: to learn about, to improve their child’s life and education, to be involved (especially as Spanish-speaking parents) with reading to their child from a book in their OWN language. It’s so exciting.”
That’s why I got so fired up about the Children’s Literacy Program and decided give give a portion of sales to the group. So if you’re looking for last minute Christmas gifts, Off the Beaten Page is available from Amazon and barnesaandnoble.com You’ll also be giving the gift of children’s literacy. You can read more about the HCMC program and learn how to contribute time, talent or treasure at www.hcmc.org/read. Storage space is limited, so please contact Children’s Literacy Liaison Lynne Burke if you are interested in making an in-kind donation.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.