People who say children don’t like to read anymore should see how excited they are to get a new book.
Today I am helping a Girl ScoutTroop and the literacy organization BookPALS throw a Love & Literacy Event at an inner city elementary school. Four portable classrooms are set up with different activities: bookmark making, snack station, story time corner, and pick a book area. The Girl Scouts have made bookshelves for each classroom and held a book drive collecting hundreds of books. My job appears simple: organize the massive stacks of books in a few minutes and then help small children pick one out to take home.
Quickly I grouped the books by subject matter and then recognizable names (i.e. Disney, Nick Jr., Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears). Once a selection of books was displayed on the table and the ones with beautiful illustrations set upright for viewing I readied myself for the first child. Would I meet a young literary prodigy who would like to discuss the complex imagery of SpongeBob Square Pants? Possibly.
Soon a little swarm of students ran into the room and an eager young man approached me dressed in camouflage.
“Hello there! How are you?” I said squatting down to his eye level, which according to the people I know with children, makes them feel more comfortable. “What subjects are you interested in?”
“Hunting,” the somber lad replied. “Do you have a book on hunting?”
“Umm no,” I said straightening up quickly and eyeballing him for concealed weapons. “I do have a book about animals visiting a watering hole.”
He shrugged glumly and walked away thumbing through other books on the table. I timidly approached the next child.
“Hello. What are you interested in?”
“Ballerinas,” she squeaked.
“Oh, good safe choice.” There were plenty of ballerina related volumes so I showed her several options and she happily skipped off with a book covered in bright pink.
Some children wanted the opening pages read to them so they could judge the difficulty. As I read the first page to one little child he got flustered and said, “I don’t know some of those words, but I like the pictures.”
“That’s okay. You’ll learn them very quickly. I promise. I was just like you once, I couldn’t read everything.”
“Really?” he said big brown eyes glowing.
“Yup, and now I can read every word and I know what they all mean.” (A little white lie won’t hurt him. Let’s face it we’re all still learning. I learned the word bloviate* yesterday.)
He carefully took the book out of my hand, holding it like a precious glass object, and went to sit on the mat with his new find.
Books to me where always an escape mechanism; a thing you could open and fall into, forgetting every hardship in the world around you. It’s a tragedy that the children most in need of escape, those in poverty, are the least likely to own a book. Donating books or working for a book drive is an excellent way to get good books into the hands of good kids.
As I walked to my car after the event I looked around the neighborhood. A duel casino and racetrack visible a few blocks down, a busy freeway only yards away, and bars covering the windows and doors of the homes.
Hopefully the kids I saw today will curl up with their new book tonight in their bedroom sanctuaries, struggle to read and understand those new unknown words, and escape this world we built for them.
If you are interested in book drives or helping bring literacy to needy children check out: My Own Book, Page Ahead, and First Book. Keep in mind that kids are not the only people who could benefit from decent literature. Donated books can help educate prisonersor even entertain our troops overseas.
*By the way: Bloviate = Speak Pompously – thank you http://www.freerice.org/