anne mikolay 2012 120March is National Reading Awareness Month. Organizations like ReadAloud.org are encouraging families to make a commitment to reading aloud with their children on a daily basis. The earlier you introduce reading to children, the more receptive to books they will be.

According to the Literacy Project Foundation, 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level. 45 million Americans are functionally illiterate and read below a fifth grade level. 44% of American adults do not read a single book in a year, and 6 out of 10 households do not make a single book purchase in that time.  In our great country, this is unacceptable!

When I was very young, my mother gave me my first book, a little, hard-covered story about St. Therese, the Little Flower. She read it to me more than once. Intrigued by the words and pictures, I couldn’t wait until I could read and write on my own. Here, I knew, was a way to tangibly express my imaginings! My love of books sparked my love of writing; by the time I was in third grade, I was filling notebook after notebook with handwritten stories. In many ways, my mother was responsible for my love of books and my profession, just as she was for my sister. My sister loved the Cherry Ames, Nurse, series my mother introduced her to; fast forward many years, and my sister is a nurse.

My teachers also encouraged reading. I loved the school’s Lucky Book and Scholastic Book Clubs and looked forward to choosing new books from the monthly offerings as eagerly as children nowadays anticipate the latest video game release. I still have my favorite book from the grade school literary clubs, The Best Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill, a sweet story about a little girl invited to bring her favorite doll to a party. The girl didn’t know which of her many, perfect dolls to choose. In the end, she took her oldest doll to the party -not the prettiest, but surely the best loved. I identified with the little girl in the book; suddenly, books were not just stories about other people. Books were stories about me, my dreams, what I liked and loved!

I have fond memories of weekly visits to our local library with my mother, who was rarely without a Daphne du Maurier novel. I loved the library, the smell of the ink on the pages of the books, and the thrill of going home with more books to read. Thankfully, I transferred my literary enthusiasm to my own children; we, too, enjoyed weekly visits to the library and brought home bags of books I later read aloud. My boys, now adults, are avid readers, effective writers and public speakers. Their natural talents were enhanced by what they learned in books! Like me, they, too, filled notebooks with stories and pursued writing in their college years. And all because my mother once read me a little book about St. Therese.

Appreciation for the written word begins with parents. Read to your children! Buy them books! Take them to the library! Introduce them to new worlds through the written word. Show them there are adventures to be discovered outside of video games! Sadly, these days it’s a rare thing to see someone reading a book; people prefer to scan the internet or access facebook on their phones, enjoyable pursuits to be sure, but for me, there will never be anything quite as exciting and meaningful as a good book!