My earliest memories involve books. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t devour one right after the other, as quickly as I could get my hands on them. My parents are readers, so there were always books in the house, and we visited the library often. With its towering shelves and infinite number of books (or so it seemed to my wonder-filled eyes), the library was an enchanted place. It even had a cat, Spike, and every kid knows that cats are magical creatures and gatekeepers to parallel worlds.
Reading was always encouraged at home. We weren’t even forced to put down our books for meals; they were allowed at the dinner table. And you know who doesn’t mind being grounded? A kid who doesn’t need an excuse to stay in her room all day with a book, that’s who. My brother and I have long since moved away, but there’s rarely a conversation between us that doesn’t include a book recommendation. Books are the #1 gift at holidays. We share our beloved and tattered favorites, knowing it may be months (or years) before they’re returned to our shelves.
For a long time, I thought all families were like mine. Readers. It wasn’t until much later that I realized just how lucky I was.
According to Literacy Inc., 80% of families in the United States haven’t purchased a single book this year. EIGHTY percent.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how much I have benefited from literacy privilege. I take for granted that it’s a resource I’ve always had. Without basic reading comprehension skills, it’s nearly impossible to pass a driver’s test, find a job that pays a livable wage, read the labels of over-the-counter medications. Illiteracy is a trap and once you’re stuck, it’s nearly impossible to climb out. Always has been. Just look at the slaves who risked their lives to learn to read and write. As Frederick Douglass famously said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
And none of that even takes into account a good story’s ability to change lives. Countless stories have shaped who I am. Fiction is a treasure and books have made me rich.
It’s terrifying to think how different my life would be without books. That person would no longer be me. She’d be an impostor, a stranger.
Because I’m a reader.
There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all. — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis