Last month, we spoke to the detrimental financial consequences associated with high rates of illiteracy.
This month, let’s speak to qualitative measures.
As Gary Paulsen states in Shelf Life: Stories by the Book, books saved his life. Before he became a proficient reader (and writer), he was so was afraid of others, he “could not make his legs walk into a classroom.” Nevertheless, one of his teachers entered a cloakroom in which he was hiding and read a picture book, allowing Gary to turn the pages. He soon overcame his fears and, hand-in-hand with his teacher, entered the room to meet fellow peers. And, at the age of thirteen, a public librarian gave him a book as he came in from the cold of the streets. Night after night, the librarian shared books, discussing the stories with Gary as he finished each. As Paulsen puts it, these books and his resulting increase in reading skills “gave me the first hint I’d ever had in my entire life that there was something other than my drunken parents screaming at each other in the kitchen. Books…gave me a look at life outside myself that made me look forward instead of backward.” How many children do you know in the same situation – enduring life circumstances in which a book might save them – touching their soul and mind, helping them to move beyond hunger, strive, or the cold of homelessness? (On any given night, 3,400 children across our land are homeless).
Within the pages of the book mentioned above, Shelf Life, Marion Dane Bauer relates a story detailing how books, and the sharing of same with others, teaches lessons conducive to the development of empathy and quality relationships. As the character in Bauer’s story reads aloud to a blind neighbor to earn a Girl Scout badge, and also befriends a neighboring girl who cannot read well, she comes to understand the “gift” she holds, high literacy skills, as opposed to the poverty of her neighbors (the inability to read). As she shares her gift over the summer, nonetheless, “magic” occurs – the protagonist comes to understand how others need access to quality books; the blind elderly lady revels in the gift of story once again, and the young girl finds a book to read-aloud to her brothers, helping to increase literacy skills throughout an entire family. How many children do you know who need access to quality children’s literature (NAEP results reveal that “while less than 15 percent of students with between 0 and 10 books scored proficient in 2015, 50 percent of students with more than 100 books did.”).
Also within the pages of Shelf Life, author Margaret Paterson Haddix pens a story in which a young girl watches her Mom mail a book to her father, who is in prison, once a month. She wonders why, but soon happens upon a girl in her family’s church shelter who is reading a book “just to make me feel like I am not here.” Suddenly, the young character understands her mother’s actions; she sends books to the prison to help her father escape, to make him think “he is on a tropical island for a few hours.” Suddenly, the girl realizes the power of books, or “escapist drivel,” in helping one overcome unfortunate circumstances – in her instance, life in a shelter and a daddy in prison. How many children do you know who need a literary escape from the consequences of violence? (Almost 40 percent of American children were direct victims of 2 or more violent acts, and 1 in 10 were victims of violence 5 or more times).
Do you know a child whose very life needs saving? As revealed above, access to books, and the subsequent increase in individual literacy skills, paired with a transformative increase in self-esteem, in case-after-case, is the answer.