Reading Changes Lives

Last year, I had the incredible pleasure of working with two phenomenally-talented illustrators as they took my words and brought them to life (Travis Hanson; Wilson Tharp).

As much fun as it was to have a children’s picture book with my name on the cover, my favorite part of the experience came in the weeks that followed publication. On Facebook, Twitter, and in my email, I received pictures from friends new and old showing their kids or their grandchildren reading these stories. One of my favorite pictures came from a friend whose grandchildren were reading the book. “They love it,” she said. And as I saw all of the pictures, I remembered.

I remembered reading Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon with my parents and giggling at the “Goodnight nobody” page. I remembered reading Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go and hunting for goldbug on every page, carefully hidden somewhere among the vehicles. I remembered my favorite book as a second grader, Pete Rose’s Winning Baseball. And I started a list of books I remembered and loved from my childhood. 

Calvin and Hobbes. (This one stands alone, always. I still dream of meeting Bill Watterson.)

Garfield. The Far Side.

Beverly Cleary. Judy Blume. Gary Paulsen. Wilson Rawls.

The Boxcar Children, Choose Your Own Adventure, and the occasional Baby-Sitters Club.

A missing Miss Nelson, time that was wrinkled, and a light in the attic where the sidewalk ends.

I remembered reading A Tale of Two Cities in one sitting simply because I could not put it down.

When my wife and I had daughters, we read to them from day one. The Monster at the End of This Book and almost everything by Sandra Boynton. When my oldest daughter started 4th grade, I spent one year of my life reading the entire Harry Potter corpus out loud to her. (I’m no Jim Dale.) Three years later, I started the series with my youngest daughter, but she took the books to school and read massive chunks on her own. I only read about half of it to her.

These days, I have a friend who owns a bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania. He is one of the coolest people I know. Every week, I look forward to his book recommendations and writing down titles on my wish list.

My entire life has been shaped by the world of words and books.

For the next year, I’ve been granted* an opportunity to work with Ozarks Literacy Council and I keep thinking about the wonder and miracle of reading, how our synapses make sounds and sense out of scribbles, dots, and lines. In this word-driven world, literacy is a necessity to live life to the full.

And then I read the following statistics:

In Springfield and the 11-county region that surrounds it, there are over 165,000 low-literacy residents.

In April of 2016, OLC, MSU, and the Missouri Career Center partnered to randomly assess 200 individuals seeking employment — 27% were below a 6th-grade reading level.

And 43.5% of Springfield Public School 3rd graders scored below basic level on MAP testing in English, Language, Arts.

The Library of Congress developed a Literacy Best Practices List and wrote, “A best practice that is standard to ensure sustainability for any modern intervention program in the 21st century is the development of partnerships.” On May 9, OLC will be participating in Give Ozarks Day, a 24-hour, social media-driven, fundraising blitz. The hope is to get as many one-time, $5 donations as possible in that time. What a fantastic way to begin developing community partnerships and making new friends.

You can give here on Tuesday.

The Library of Congress went on to say that the best models for improving literacy all rely heavily upon volunteerism. OLC is making a difference because of their amazing corps of volunteers. As OLC reaches out into schools and strives to develop a new adult tutoring program in Branson, volunteer tutors will be in great demand. If you’d like to help someone reach their reading goals, apply here.

I’m grateful for parents and teachers who taught and demonstrated the power and importance of reading.

Reading changes lives.

*This is just a punny wordplay. I attempt to write grants for OLC. Forgive me, but I think this is hilarious. I love cracking myself up when I write.