Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reading As A Gift

I clearly remember the very first book that was ever given to me. I also believe that this particular book was also the very first book I ever read all by myself. Although I do not think that those two events happened on the same day. But who knows? The book is a classic that has been enjoyed by generations of young readers and listeners: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss.

I remember where I was sitting when my mother called me over and presented me with the book perhaps it was an early birthday, I’m not sure. I do know that it was my father who picked out the book for me. A few years ago I was speaking with my mother about Newberry and Calldicott winners and books in general. I guess I can mention here that like me, my mom also has a MLIS and worked as a librarian. She also received her degree in the later part of her life. I clearly remember her taking the coursework and studying the Dewey Decimal System on flashcards. Yikes! Anyway, my mother told me that my father walked past a bookstore to and from the train station on his way to and from work each day. He made the choice to not buy any coffee for the morning commute and instead would pocket the money and save it up until he had enough to purchase a children’s book. I should also add here that I am one of ten children and so I’m thinking that my dad never did get around to ever being able to buy coffee going to work until very late in his career. Of course, by then there were grandchildren so maybe he never did get to enjoy that morning train coffee.

Books and reading always had an important place in our home. I grew up in two houses. We moved to the second house when I was about thirteen or fourteen. The largest single piece of furniture in either of our homes was a bookcase. It ran across the sidewall in the dining room in the first house and stood against the living room back wall in the second house. It was huge. It stood at least twenty-four feet long and ten feet high. And it was stuffed with books, books of every imaginable kind. There was a classification system in place. It ran vertically. Books for younger readers were located on the bottom shelves and books for older readers progressed from about the third shelf up to the top. Even the top of the bookcase was used as a shelf with books stored horizontally on their sides, spine out, of course. My copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish did not reside on the bookcase. I keep it in the room I shared with two of my brothers.

I’m sometimes asked by parents when they should begin reading with their children. I suggest that they start reading as soon as they start holding the child. That is what happened to me and that is what we did with our children. When you start early you are giving both you and the child the chance to begin an activity that will last a lifetime. You also give yourself the chance to read aloud some of the books that you enjoyed as a child. You get to give to someone something of your own experience. Some books stick with you. And some places and times are forever entwined within you with the book you happen to be reading or that are read to you. I’m not sure why either of these things happens but I am very happy that they do. The first books our children received were waiting for them when everyone came home from the hospital. I also remember who gave our children their first books. It was my dad.

See you at the Library,

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