I'm proud to say that books are my friends. They are interesting, helpful, inspiring, insightful, and always there when I need them. I've had a special kinship with books my entire life. I have no memories that precede my relationship with reading.
I think it is one of the most important ways to encourage children, and adults for that matter, to be who they want to be, to go places that others don’t believe they can, and to teach them empathy, love, courage, imagination, and so much more. I’m not the first to say this but I truly believe that books are windows to the world.
It's not hyperbole. When I recommend a book, I'm opening up my soul to another person. When I give someone a book, especially one I've had with me for many years and has interwoven itself into the very fabric of my being, I'm giving them a part of me. A book is more valuable than jewelry. Beyond food, clothing, and shelter, it may be the most important implement for humanity. As we learn more about animals, we discover we are not so special compared to them. The written word may be the only thing that is uniquely human.
When teaching, I spend hours each week at the library searching for books I can share with my students. I know countless other teachers that do the same. We rummage through the shelves at thrift stores and yard sales, spending our own money to supplement the reading offered by our schools. A good teacher knows they can never have enough reading material for their students. And it will never be enough.
Sharing knowledge is how mammals survive. Teaching our children is paramount to their survival. To our survival. They need access to all the worlds, stories, and knowledge bound in books. And we cannot let financial need, poor parenting, or anything stand in the way of their ability to access the tools of their survival.
Far north, in the panhandle of Idaho, the local United Way recognizes this need, and has a program that addresses it beautifully. They, along with other community partners, share the gift of literacy with Northern Idaho kids. Called The Reading Wagon, the program uses book drives and small grants to help fill the shelves of the United Way Children’s Book Bank. The Reading Wagon then travels to daycares, schools, and community events to deliver both new and used literature to children of all ages. They've distributed over 7,000 books already this year alone.
We spent an afternoon in Coeur d'Alene sorting through donations, cleaning books, and packaging some for delivery. The record-breaking heat of well over 100 degrees coupled with the oppressive smoke from wildfires made the outdoors resemble a hellscape. John-Michael was just happy to be indoors. For me, the day was filled with joy for more reasons than air conditioning. I was surrounded by the comforting smell of books. I was in heaven cleaning, organizing, and simply handling so many treasures.
Picking up a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, a tear welled up in my eye when I thought about a child getting to experience this for the first time. Memories of me as a child, and the excitement of that first Rumpus. Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing, Anne of Green Gables, Call of the Wild, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Harry Potter, even The Babysitters Club (I’ll admit it, I don’t care) were all there. All my old friends, there and ready to live on in another generation.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
- Host an internal Book Drive – promote and collect books within your business or organization – a great team building tool!
- Run a Neighborhood Book Collection Drive – have your employees, teammates, or group members distribute print materials and collect books from local residents. Great hands-on opportunity with fantastic exposure!
- Find out if your local United Way, library, or school system have similar programs. If so, bring your team of volunteers to help collect, sort, clean, and distribute books.
- Talk to teachers. Ask them how you can help. (There is a current trend that I absolutely love where a person can “adopt” a student from a teacher’s classroom--without the student’s knowledge--and take part in sending them notes of encouragement along with purchasing a book for the child when a book order goes out.)