I’ve been an avid reader since before I could read. Made up stories before I knew how to put the letters together to make the words. My mother passed this passion on to me, and when I became a mom, it was something I chose to pass on to my kids. I think books give us a special gift. It’s not just about escaping into a different world. It’s about learning new ideas and points of view. With books we get to visit places we may never go or experience events that might’ve otherwise been lost in the past. Reading helps us empathize with others and it encourages deep thinking. It gives us knowledge, teaches about social and cultural norms outside of our own, and it provides pleasure. Books open up our vocabularies and our hearts and our minds, so that “what if” isn’t just a daydream prompt; it’s a possibility.
Last night, my youngest daughter graduated the 8th grade. I’m not sure if that’s a big deal anywhere else, but around here, it’s a rite of passage. After the 8th grade, they head into high school where they start seriously contemplating their futures. Part of this is a graduation ceremony, where the kids say goodbye to elementary school (and to many of their friends) and they’re recognized for accomplishments made over their first 9 years of school. My daughter received the literacy award, which is given to a student who shows a love of literature and writing skill.
As you can imagine, words can’t express how proud I am of her. Six years before this, my oldest daughter graduated grade 8 and received the same award. Coincidence or genetics?
My girls have always loved books. Court, my oldest, prefers fantasy and sci-fi and horror. Kennedy has always leaned toward non-fiction, but she reads a range of fiction genres as well (but she really loves Rick Riordan’s books). She loves anything featuring mythology, particularly Greek and Norse gods. When they started to show an interest in writing as well, I tried to stand back so it’d grow naturally. To be honest, I imagined what they wrote would be awkward and a little clunky, because we have to learn these things, right?
However, when I got an opportunity to read their work (both were about 12 years old), I was stunned. Court’s innate ability to use symbolism and imagery, and the lyrical style in which she writes is breathtaking. I kept saying to myself, “Oh my God, this kid is TWELVE!” Kennedy’s wit and skill with words at a very young age (seriously, this kid has a MASSIVE vocabulary) made me a little bit jealous. Her skill with language is inspiring and (I admit) humbling. I’m talking kids here, who just effortlessly put these words on the page and crafted something beautiful and engaging. Sure, there were technical issues, like missing dialogue tags and rogue punctuation, but man, I don’t remember having this kind of talent at that age.
Aside from bragging about my awesome kids, I’m sharing this to stress the importance of encouraging our kids to read. Without their passion for books, neither of my girls would’ve tried their hand at writing. They wouldn’t have the words to describe what’s in their heads and they would never have been exposed to much beyond our small town. I’ve always believed that recognizing and rewarding kids for reaching for the stars in creative endeavors is important. Books, specifically, show us new worlds and provide an education that schools just can’t provide. They teach us about life. Sure, fiction isn’t real, but it reflects reality, and it can help us deconstruct and understand what seems incomprehensible or impossible.
This is why I love reading and writing, and why it’s always been important for me that my kids share my love for books. If they never do anything with what books have given them in terms of writing skill, that’s okay. I mean, I’ll be a little sad, but it’s not the end of the world. The other skills they’ve gained from books will help take them anywhere they want to go.
Literacy is defined as ‘the ability to read and write,’ but it’s so much more than that. It gives us a foundation for higher learning, and it helps make life a little easier to live. So, whether you’re a reader, a writer, or both, if you do nothing else, pass along your passion for books to someone else. It’s one of the most precious gifts you’ll ever give.