Ask Amy

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - by Amy Dick­in­son

Dear Read­ers: This is a spe­cial day for me, be­cause this is the day I take a break from host­ing your ques­tions in or­der to ad­vo­cate for a cause that is very near and dear to me: Lit­er­acy.

In my long ca­reer as a writer and reader, I have vol­un­teered in class­rooms, li­braries and pris­ons, read­ing with oth­ers and shar­ing the work of writ­ers im­por­tant in my own life. I do so in honor of my late mother Jane, who passed along to me her own love of read­ing and writ­ing — first as a young child on our some­what iso­lated dairy farm, and later as adults, when we shared books and let­ters back and forth, some­times over great dis­tances. This is a legacy I con­tinue to hap­pily share — through the many books I rec­om­mend in this space, and also the two mem­oirs I have au­thored (my next book comes out in March 2017).

What I learned from my mother’s life-les­son is that when you have a book, you are never alone. Read­ing un­locks worlds of imag­i­na­tion and cre­ativ­ity. Lit­er­acy im­parts real power, and this is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for peo­ple who feel pow­er­less.

The magic of lit­er­acy can hap­pen at any time, but it is es­pe­cially im­por­tant in child­hood. Read­ing helps a young child’s brain de­velop and ma­ture. Read­ing for plea­sure is a life­long gift of en­ter­tain­ment and learn­ing.

To­day, on my mother’s birth­day, I joy­fully share a sim­ple idea that adults can eas­ily adopt in or­der to give the chil­dren in their lives the gift my mother gave to me, by putting a “Book on Every Bed.”

Cel­e­brate the giv­ing sea­son

Here’s what to do: On Christ­mas morn­ing (or what­ever hol­i­day you cel­e­brate), make sure that each child in your house­hold wakes up to a wrapped book at the foot of their bed. The gift could be a new book — or an old fa­vorite from your own child­hood. If your fam­ily cel­e­brates Hanukkah or Kwan­zaa, imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties for start­ing each cel­e­bra­tory morn­ing with a story!

Af­ter the child un­wraps the book, the most im­por­tant as­pect of this gift is un­veiled, when the par­ent sits and shares it with the child. The sad fact is that more than a third of fam­i­lies in the United States do not share books with their young chil­dren reg­u­larly. Start­ing a cel­e­bra­tion morn­ing by read­ing to­gether will forge an un­for­get­table in­ti­macy for both the child and the par­ent.

Reach out and read

I am join­ing forces this year with the won­der­ful national lit­er­acy project, Reach Out and Read. This non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion is pow­ered by pe­di­a­tri­cians who share a com­mon goal — to make sure that all par­ents and care­givers un­der­stand the im­por­tance of read­ing aloud, so that all chil­dren are given a solid foun­da­tion for suc­cess.

Reach Out and Read doc­tors talk with fam­i­lies about read­ing aloud at rou­tine child health check­ups, from in­fancy un­til they start school — those first few years, when it re­ally counts. They en­cour­age par­ents to en­joy shar­ing books reg­u­larly with their in­fants, tod­dlers and preschool­ers, and give each child a brand-new, “Doc­tor-rec­om­mended” book to take home and keep.

By work­ing with par­ents at pe­di­atric health checks, physi­cians have an op­por­tu­nity to reach 91 per­cent of all fam­i­lies with chil­dren un­der the age of five. In fact, the Reach Out and Read pro­gram al­ready serves more than 4.7 mil­lion chil­dren each year, in­clud­ing a quar­ter of all chil­dren from low-in­come fam­i­lies in the U.S.

This is an im­por­tant pre­scrip­tion for health and suc­cess in grow­ing brains — and shar­ing a book is a won­der­ful way for fam­i­lies to con­nect. Every year I hear from teach­ers, li­brar­i­ans, par­ents and grand­par­ents who tell me they have adopted the “book on every bed” tra­di­tion in their homes.

Par­ents and care­givers can put a book on every bed in their own house­holds; you can also help to spread the cause of lit­er­acy by gen­er­ously shar­ing this idea in your own com­mu­nity. For fam­i­lies who cel­e­brate through ser­vice projects, I sug­gest adopt­ing a lo­cal class­room or day care cen­ter and pro­vid­ing a book for each child to un­wrap on Christ­mas morn­ing.

To learn more, and to watch a video of a demon­stra­tion of this con­cept, go to rea­choutan­ — or my own Face­book page: face­­in­sonDaily.

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