Thursday, December 9, 2010

Give The Gift of Literacy This Christmas

When I was little I was read to non-stop. Seriously. Just ask my parents. They would go hoarse at night from reading to me. I had a minimum of half a dozen stories read to me each night before I would consider falling asleep. To their credit, they happily (if wearily) obliged my love for reading (well, being read to).

My favorite story was Twas The Night Before Christmas and it didn't matter what time of year it was, I had to hear it every single night. One night when I was about 2, my dad walked into my room and found me sitting on my bed reading Twas The Night Before Christmas aloud to my dolls. He knew I was reading because I was turning the pages at the correct places. After the initial excitement of thinking they had the smartest child in the world on their hands, it turned out that I wasn't actually reading, but had memorized the book.

To this day, reading remains one of my favorite pastimes. Unfortunately, I don't do it as much as I used to, but I've been known to read between 6 and 10 books during a week of vacation.

Recently, I found my collection of Little House on the Prairie books (all hardcovers) and I'm falling in love with the Ingalls' family all over again.

I share this story because in today's Ask Amy column in the Chicago Tribune, I came across what I believe to be the best idea for a Christmas gift and I'm sharing it with you.
New Holiday Tradition Revolves Around Reading
Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, December 9, 2010
Dear Readers: My first book was Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham." My family's copy landed in my hands after my older siblings had practically read the covers off of it.
My mother read it aloud to me (repeatedly) until I finally unlocked the code and started to read by myself.

Everybody has a first book — or, rather, everybody should have a first book.

Unfortunately, in a season that has already seen record-setting pre-orders for a video game, statistics on reading and literacy are alarming:

According to literacy organizations, less than half of young children in this country are read to regularly.

A high percentage of American families have no children's books in the home.

This holiday season I am putting my column where my heart is, and so I'm asking "Ask Amy" readers to celebrate by giving a book to a child, through a homegrown campaign called, "A Book on Every Bed."

Here's how it works:

Take a book.

Wrap it.

Place it on a child's bed so it's the first thing she sees on Christmas morning (or whatever holiday you celebrate).

That's it.

I'm working with the Family Reading Partnership, a literacy organization in my hometown of Ithaca, N.Y., to spread the word about the importance of reading with children.

A million stories: Our goal is for a million American children to wake up to a wrapped book on their beds.

This is not a fundraising appeal. This is not about buying books (the book you give can be passed down).

"A Book on Every Bed" is an appeal to spread the love of reading from parents to children. We also want to encourage families to share books by reading aloud.

Santa brings a Pulitzer: This idea was inspired by one of America's favorite writers.

Historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough says that every Christmas morning during his childhood, he woke up to a wrapped book at the foot of his bed, left by Santa.

McCullough's children (and now grandchildren) are also recipients of this literary largesse, creating a wonderful tradition.

When he heard about this effort, Mr. McCullough e-mailed me: "There are few things that start the day off better, and especially on Christmas, than discovering a new book at the foot of your bed.

"I think my love of books began on Christmas mornings long ago and the love has never gone stale."

Start a tradition: My hope is that other families will enjoy a tradition that revolves around reading together.

I further hope that librarians, teachers, bookstore owners and literacy advocates spread this idea as far and wide as it will go, making it possible for any family that wants a child to receive a book to get one.

Reading is a vital life skill. Reading leads to a life filled with ideas, feelings and creative expressions.

Reading will make you smart. It will also make you less lonely, because a person with a book is never alone.

Books can be lifelong friends — ready to be opened when a person has an extra minute in the carpool line, or stacked in an unruly pile next to the bed, awaiting that next dark night of the soul — when a reader craves illumination and the company of beloved characters.

Literacy starts early: Thoughtful parents introduce books very early in life. They read to their own bellies while pregnant, let their infants chew on cardboard books and encourage their toddlers to leaf through picture books.

Kids who grow up surrounded by books and stories have a leg up in life. Because children who love books grow up to be good and attentive listeners. And kids who read for pleasure have ready access to heroes.

Wrap and read it together: This is a simple concept with one big goal: to raise and foster a generation of readers.

I would love to hear (and share) your ideas and stories of book giving and receiving — before, during and after the holiday season. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and through the address below.

Readers can also see a home video of me reading with my favorite toddler; posted on
So that's it. Give your favorite kid(s) a book this Christmas. Unlock a whole new world for them. I suggest giving your favorite childhood book or Heroes for My Son by Brad Meltzer (here and here too for my perspective on it).

1 comment:

  1. I always loved getting books for Christmas - I couldn't wait to unwrap them and start reading. I went through a dog phase - had to have every book by Albert Payson Terhune (Lad, a Dog, Lady, Wolf, all of them) and then as well I had to have the Jack London books about dogs. My first books were, however, Winnie the Pooh, which my mother read to me until I was old enough to read them myself. They still make great reading even for adults.

    Since I don't have kids, my favorite child is the daughter of a dear friend of mine, who is now 15. She loves the Little House on the Prairie books and a few years ago, she had acquired most of them but was missing an early book that was by then out of print. Since buying it from an out-of-print website would be fairly costly, $100 or so, her mom didn't want to get it for her. So her "Aunt" Mimi (that would be me) bought it for her for Christmas. She was thrilled. I knew how she'd feel because I always wanted to have a full set of my favorite books so I could reread them over and over. This year she's getting a Barnes & Noble gift card since I am not sure what she has and hasn't read at this point. But I always give her either a book or the B&N certificate.


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