I’ve always loved to read. My earliest memories involve wonderful, imaginative stories that enriched my life. The Little Red Hen, Johnny-Go-Round, Sendak’s Wild Things, Anderson’s fairy tales, the Bobbsey Twins and Happy Hollisters were all as much a part of my life as was the freeway traffic that flowed endlessly across the street from our home, the railroad at the end of the block, and the liquor store where I bought my weekly treat – a fudgesicle, or if I was feeling flush, a 10-cent Rocket Pop. Every day I’d pack my school bag with at least two books with which to stave off inevitable boredom. Trips to the library or my favorite thrift store were highlights of my week; I knew I’d come home with at least a few more books to cherish.
Perhaps I was an odd little kid, but even then I wasn’t reading only to find out what happened in the story. I read to discover new worlds, different lives, deeper meanings in everyday matters. Reading historical fiction such as Mary Jane by Dorothy Sterling, and biographies about women such as Prudence Crandall and Florence Nightingale aroused awareness that not everyone had the kind of life I lived. Through stories, both fiction and non-fiction, I learned that it’s essential to stand for what is right; to be brave when it’s easier to be passive; and to understand that every human was created with a heart and soul, and must be treated with kindness and respect.
Because I didn’t have brothers and sisters at home, I shared Amy, Meg, and Beth with Jo; adventured with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and traveled, played, and learned with the subjects of all the Landmark biographies. Because I had beloved pets, I wept over Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, the Wahoo Bobcat, and all the other animal books I could find. During road trips through the western states, I devoured the work of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. They taught me to truly see and appreciate the vast, not-quite-empty spaces, mercurial skies, and distant horizons. Each book–even the easy reads and funny stories– expanded my small world in some way, and taught me the value of compassion, ingenuity, curiosity, persistence, integrity, diligence, humor, and imagination.
As parents, we can’t begin to teach our children everything they need to know, but we can teach them to read, and make sure they have plenty of good books. Stories have power to awaken the imagination, which is essential both for empathy and for creativity. Truths carried to the heart through the power of story wil linger far longer than anything that comes through a lecture or a worksheet. As you begin the new school year, make time for reading, and I promise, learning will happen.