Did you know that March is National Reading Month? For me, just about every month of my life has been a reading month. I was fortunate that my parents read to me a lot and we made weekly trips to the public library. I recall the cool and dusty smell of the old children’s department in the basement of the Norwalk Public Library.
You had to go in a side door and down a flight of steps – picture books and the early reading section was to the right, the check out desk faced the bottom of the stairs where the librarian would take your library card and stamp your book – with a due date of the following week. I knew I had grown up when I could turn left at the bottom of the stairs where all the chapter books were, plus maps and books about history, geography, biographies. Birds of prey sat (stuffed) in large glass cases.
I pulled out my old books from a box in the attic this weekend. A little mouse-eaten on the corners, most were intact and brought back those memories. In addition to my parents reading (turns out I – or they – saved a lot of “churchy” books), a remember Mr. Blackman reading The Happy Hollisters to us daily in 3rd grade. That got me hooked on personal reading and soon graduated to Nancy Drew.
Flipping through the pages of each of these books – chapter and picture – made me realize how “white” my Dick and Jane were. My upbringing in the 1960s certainly passed along a lot of implicit (and explicit to me now) bias. Looking through the prayers, families, and dolls pictured I see how “sheltered” and “segregated” my worldview was, even though I attended a segregated school (and church). Daddies went to work and wore a tie. Mommies wore aprons and cooked a lot. Children played outside with the dog, dolls, and balls. Lots of balls. For girls, as it was for me, going to church meant a dress, Mary Jane’s (shoes), lacy socks, white gloves, and a hat.
I’ve assembled quite a library in my home now; lots prayer books, theology, and biblical studies for all ages. I tend to donate all the novels, biographies, and historical fiction back to the library with the exception of a few favorites that I keep. (I still like mysteries – any Louise Penny fans?)
This weekend I was culling books out for another library deposit donation and decided to fill the empty shelves with the children’s books recovered from the attic as well as those I saved of my children’s. Adding the books of my granddaughter’s when she comes to visit – my shelves are now a library of three generations worth of children’s books: 50s and 60s, 80s and 90s, and now into the 21st century. What a difference – in content, illustration, and price!
Books are more vibrant and inclusive today. The paper is more durable and images fill the page. No longer 25¢ from the “Five and Dime” or $1.00 from Caldor’s (the department store of my childhood), they are more costly. But in these books Jesus is a dark, middle eastern man, children play in creative ways and walk in neighborhoods that truly exist. Dad may stay home while Mom (or Dad) carries the briefcase.
I am truly grateful to all those who have read to me throughout my childhood. I’m pleased that my adult children now enjoy reading to others and my granddaughter’s bookshelves are full of books on the environment and women’s empowerment and feature the full diversity of our world.
While this National Reading Month is drawing to a close, I hope you find a good book to crawl up with. Make the gift of a library card or book to a child you love. Pass on the gift of reading!
*Reading Is Fundamental is committed to a literate America by inspiring a passion for reading among all children, providing quality content to make an impact and engaging communities in the solution to give every child the fundamentals for success. As the nation’s largest children’s literacy non-profit, Reading Is Fundamental maximizes every contribution to ensure all children have the ability to read and succeed.