Cel­e­brate sea­son with gift of lit­er­acy

Orlando Sentinel - - PUZZLES & ADVICE - By Amy Dick­in­son [email protected]­dick­in­son.com Twit­ter @ask­ingamy

Dear Read­ers: This is a spe­cial day for me, be­cause this is the day I take a break from host­ing your ques­tions 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 life. I do so in honor of my late mother, Jane, who passed along to me her 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, some­times over great dis­tances. This is a legacy I con­tinue to hap­pily share — through the many books I rec­om­mend in this space, and the two mem­oirs I have writ­ten.

What I learned from my mother’s life les­son is that when you have a book, you are never alone. 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 child’s brain de­velop. Read­ing for plea­sure is a life­long gift of en­ter­tain­ment and learn­ing.

To­day, in mem­ory of my mother on her birth­day, I joy­fully share a sim­ple idea that adults can eas­ily adopt — to give the chil­dren in their lives the gift my mother gave to me by putting “a book on ev­ery bed.”

Here’s what to do: On Christ­mas morn­ing or New Year’s Day (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 child­hood.

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 reg­u­larly share books with their young chil­dren. Start­ing a cel­e­bra­tory morn­ing by read­ing to­gether will forge an un­for­get­table in­ti­macy for both the child and the par­ent.

This year I am part­ner­ing with Chil­dren’s Read­ing Con­nec­tion, a na­tional early lit­er­acy ini­tia­tive founded in my home­town of Ithaca, New York. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ad­vo­cacy fo­cuses on help­ing fam­i­lies to share books with ba­bies and chil­dren. Even ba­bies too young to talk tune in, in a deep and abid­ing way, when they are held and read to.

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, church groups, par­ents and grand­par­ents who tell me they have adopted the “book on ev­ery bed” tra­di­tion in their homes. I can think of no nicer way to kick off a busy Christ­mas morn­ing than by snug­gling up with a book.

As a lit­er­acy ad­vo­cate (and huge fan of li­braries), I am in­spired by the ca­reer and legacy of the U.S. Li­brar­ian of Congress, Carla Hayden, Ph.D., who is the first woman and the first African Amer­i­can to hold this au­gust post.

Hayden em­pha­sizes how im­por­tant it is for young read­ers to iden­tify with and be in­spired by char­ac­ters, as she was as a child: “Lit­er­acy is the ticket to learn­ing, op­por­tu­nity and em­pow­er­ment. It’s im­por­tant that chil­dren see them­selves in the books they read . ...

“Mar­guerite de An­geli’s ‘Bright April’ al­lowed me to see my­self in a book — a young girl who was a brownie with pig­tails — and it in­spired me that any­thing was pos­si­ble.”

Clos­ing the lit­er­acy gap in child­hood starts with hav­ing books in house­holds, and with chil­dren be­ing read to.

Writer and il­lus­tra­tor Peter Reynolds says, “Pic­ture books are wis­dom dipped in art and words.” His book “The Word Col­lec­tor” (2018, Or­chard Books) is a great reada­long book for an early reader. Its en­gag­ing and lively young hero, Jerome, finds and col­lects words ev­ery­where he goes.

Par­ents and care­givers can put a book on ev­ery bed in their house­holds; you can also help spread lit­er­acy by shar­ing this idea in your 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 learn more, and to share your lit­er­acy story, go to chil­dren­sread­ing­con­nec­tion.org or my Face­book page: face­book.com/ ADick­in­sonDaily.

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