I remember the first time I met you. I sat on the couch snuggled up to my mom, she held you in her hands and began to read softly, turning the pages quietly. I listened to the words, a description of a stuffed velveteen rabbit who was dearly loved by a young boy. I remember feeling so sad for the little boy when he became ill and had to give up his beloved rabbit. As my mother closed the book, it wasn’t the end, it was the beginning for me. I was in love.
When Ramona Quimby, Age 8 declared to her mother that she was going to say a bad word, clenched her fists, and yelled “GUTS, GUTS, GUTS!”, as an eight-year-old myself, I laughed and knew at that moment I would always love you because you understood me. Throughout the years you have never let me down. Your words have provided me with thrilling adventures, tender love stories, fantastical tales of talking beasts, and exposed me to new perspectives and ways of thinking.
When my first child was born, we grew apart a bit. I didn’t love you any less, it was just that my attention was focused on keeping a tiny human alive. Then the third Harry Potter book was released, and I knew I had to find a way to have you be a part of my life again. So, I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban out loud to my baby while he sat cradled in my arms. He didn’t understand the words, but he seemed content to listen to my voice as I read about Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s latest adventure. I kept reading to him after that, all kinds of books: picture books, kids’ encyclopedias, Guinness Book of World Records. We learned about exotic animals and what it means to be a friend. We worried over poor Max as he made mischief of one kind and another and we talked about what to do when we felt mad or sad or out of control. When his brother was born, I read the Goblet of Fire to him, keeping the Harry Potter tradition alive. Later, he would sit side by side with his big brother and the two of them would look at books and read to each other making up the words as they went along. You opened doors to new vocabulary. You helped support their cognitive development. You helped them focus their attention until the last page was turned. But the best part was that you gave me and my boys a way to connect, to find moments of peace in a busy world. I will always be grateful for you.
The thing is, you aren’t just a bunch of pages bound together, or words collected on a page. You aren’t just images or white space. And you certainly aren’t a luxury. You are a powerful, necessary tool. You ignite neurons in developing brains. The more of you, dear books, there are in a home has a greater influence on child’s level of education than does parent income, nationality, or level of education. A child who is lucky enough to have 500 of you in their home will spend three years longer in school compared to a child who only has a few of you.
Here is the deal. Every child deserves to have lots of you in their home. So, at United Way of Skagit County we are raising money to do just that – put books in to the hands of children. This is a solid investment because I know you will help them in ways they can’t even imagine.
Jen Lindbeck has a M.Ed., Early Childhood Education, Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University and is the Early Learning Resource Coordinator for United Way of Skagit County.