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.”
“…. What one can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting than what goes on behind a windowpane. In that black or luminous square life lives, life dreams, life suffers….”–Baudelaire
I have an active imagination. And maybe I’m just a little nosy. That’s why I love windows,
especially at night when the lights are on so I can really see in. Best of all, I love it when there’s a party going on inside and music floats out the window into the street. What’s the occasion for the party–a birthday, a holiday, a casual gathering for no particular reason at all? Are the people young, old, happy? What are they wearing? What’s the topic of conversation? Don’t worry, you won’t find me peering in at you during the night, unless your party looks irresistible. Then I’ll probably knock at the door and invite myself in.
The best window-peeping is in big cities and in old cities where you walk on the sidewalk
right up next to the windows. In really tiny medieval villages, you may look through a window and find yourself only a few feet from a family as they sit down to dinner. You may hear a fight. You may also find someone looking out the window wondering about you.
In Europe they put a lot more effort into their windows than we do in the U.S. For example, here are a few windows in France where windows come with piles of blooming flowers, fantastic shutters, and beautiful window displays that make you want to go in and make a purchase. In France, even the animals love their windows.
January. It’s the same routine every year. The relatives go home, the last toasts to the new year have been made, and I’m feel slightly blue–partly because my kids have left and partly because it’s been crazy cold here in Minnesota. It didn’t get above -11 on Monday. I’m talking Siberia cold.
Though it’s a bit of a letdown when the holiday frenzy is over, the quiet time of January provides a time to reflect on what I’ve done over the last year, new things I’d like to do this year, and after enough procrastination, to get fired up to do a few of those things. Since it’s been too frosty to go out, I’ve had plenty of time to hunker down and “reflect” (okay that’s my word for not getting to work). I looked back at the first post I made on this blog, which was called “Book Club Traveler” then, and I’m glad I took the time to revisit it. I always have giant lists this time of year of all the things I wish I had accomplished, a lot of “should-have-done this and why-didn’t-I-do-that,” things I need to do now. But looking back a couple of years at those first days of blogging, I’m feeling pretty good, optimistic even. My goal was to encourage readers to take their love of literature to the next level and actually travel to the places they read about. I concluded my first post with: “So, this blog will explore the places where literature and travel intersect, how to escape with a good book and understand the places we travel, with or without a book group, through the eyes of authors who have gone there before us. Let’s get out of the living room and hit the road.”
I got enough positive feedback on the concept and enough comments like, “I wish my book club would do that,” that I gradually I came to believe that the concept was worthy of a book. And, as a result, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways (Chicago Review Press) came out last May, hence the new name of the blog. The book features 15 U.S. destinations with essays, an extensive reading list, and a detailed itinerary for each. People always ask what was my favorite destination. In January, my favorite getaway is South Beach/Miami, Florida. I’ve written several posts about that trip like this and this. It was just arduous doing research there as you can see from this video. Notice that no one is wearing bulky sweaters or long johns.
However, if you’re dreaming of Florida right now, but not exactly getting there as soon as you’d like, pick up any book by Carl Hiassen for a crazy look at south Florida, especially Miami; Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief; Peter Mathiessen’s Shadow Country about the Florida frontier; or Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! I’m snuggled in with new books to read and dreaming up potential new adventures for the year based on those books. One benefit of travel and reading is that even if I’m home in the deep freeze, I can conjure up previous tropical sojourns to warm my heart if not my fingers and toes.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.