When books outnumber dishes and toys
by Ginger Young, Executive Director
It feels increasingly challenging to write our weekly blogpost, as the news beyond Book Harvest has grown ever more chaotic and concerning this fall. I feel acutely aware of how disconnected it is to write about kids reading in a cozy corner of the house while the house is metaphorically engulfed in flames.
And yet: THIS is precisely the time when we must marshal our resolve to not get distracted, to continue to advance the work that is ours to do, and to share our stories. In the long run, our success in realizing our vision – a world in which reading, learning, and access to information are rights, not privileges, so that all children thrive — is a tiny piece of also realizing a new, better reality for every child, a world that is disturbingly and unacceptably out of reach for so very many.
Thus – and perhaps this can serve as a balm against the collective trauma of our present day for anyone reading this – I want to share a magical moment that I experienced yesterday.
Every week, I make art with a young friend over Zoom. She’s five. Our time together is, hands down, the highlight of my week, a lifeline of vibrant connectivity during this era of stunning isolation.
Occasionally, my young friend asks if she can read me a story at the end of our art making. Of course, I am delighted when she wants to – and I am all ears.
The first time this happened was in May. She brought a favorite book – James Marshall and Harry Allard’s Miss Nelson is Missing – to the screen and proceeded to read the entire story to me, word for word, turning pages at all the right times. I checked with her dad afterward and learned that he and she had read the story together so many times that she had memorized it (anyone who has ever read Goodnight Moon to their child zillions of times will understand this – and will forever be able to recite the book from memory). My friend was reciting rather than reading – itself a sensational developmental milestone.
Again, I checked with her dad. THIS time, he told me that she had read it with him only a couple of times, and that she was in fact reading the story to me – decoding the words, putting them together to derive meaning and flow from a collection of squiggles on the page.
As her dad said, “reading has officially ‘clicked’”.
At this point, I asked Dad to tell me a bit more. I’ll let him take it from here:
She started reading fluently sometime this summer. She started memorizing stories probably at age 3 – Abiyoyo was the first one. She memorized it because the book scared her and knowing the end of the story provided her comfort when she was at the beginning and middle, so she was really motivated by protection. When her brother was born, she found that first telling him stories and now reading to him is a way to be with him.
I think that books have been the essential ingredient to what is now a best-friendship that brings them both (and me) so much joy. Now books have become central to her hobbies (like baking challah), to her identity (like books all around our apartment about world-changing girls) and her passion (like Zoey and Sassafras, which has made her want to be a scientist). Her mom and I spend more time cleaning up books around the house every night than dishes and toys. Although that probably means our kids need to learn to put away their own books, we never lose sight of how beautiful it is that our apartment is completely oversaturated by books.
There are so many dazzling parts to this story that I scarcely know where to begin. Many parents may find familiar refrains in my young friend’s embrace of stories and reading. I sure do – and, among them, what stands out most is the POWER stories provide to a child: the power to cope with fears and unknowns, to share freely with loved ones, to forge loving bonds, to form identities, to empathize, to develop social and emotional toolkits – and, yes, to build vocabulary.
I was enraptured by my experience yesterday. I reflected this morning that the comfort and support that my friend derives from a beloved story, and the power to share that story, is something we may all need now more than ever – regardless of our age.
Go read a story, everyone! And, please, stay safe and well.