DEAR READERS: Last year at this time, I announced the launch of a homegrown, grassroots literacy campaign in this column called “A Book on Every Bed.”
Working with the Family Reading Partnership ( familyreading.org ), a small literacy nonprofit in Ithaca, N.Y., we hatched a simple plan with a far-flung goal: to foster a generation of readers.
Our idea was to put a million books at the foot of a million beds for a million children on Christmas morning.
This very simple idea spread out from this column to parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, writers, readers — and those who love them.
My column about inspiring people to help create a nation of young readers and imaginative thinkers was clipped and pinned on bulletin boards and copied and sent home with kids in their backpacks.
By January, when I counted up the enthusiastic responses to this campaign, it seemed we might have actually reached our lofty goal.
Unfortunately, statistics on reading and literacy are alarming: Less than half of young children in this country are read to regularly and a large percentage of American families report that they have no children’s books in the home.
Introducing books and reading very early in life will write indelibly on a child’s future. Here’s how it works:
Take a book.
Place it on a child’s bed so it’s the first thing the child sees on Christmas morning (or whatever holiday you celebrate).
This is not a fundraising appeal. This is not about selling or buying books (the book you give can be passed down).
“A Book on Every Bed” is an appeal to spread the love of reading from parents to children. We also want to encourage families to share books by reading aloud.
This idea was inspired by one of the country’s favorite writers. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough (author of “John Adams” and many other histories) says that every Christmas morning during his childhood, he woke up to a wrapped book at the foot of his bed, left by Santa.
McCullough’s children (and now grandchildren) are also recipients of this literary largess, creating a wonderful Christmas tradition, as well as a legacy of literacy to be passed down through the family.
Mr. McCullough endorsed our effort: “There are few things that start the day off better, and especially on Christmas, than discovering a new book at the foot of your bed.
“I think my love of books began on Christmas mornings long ago and the love has never gone stale.”
My favorite was from teacher Tammi Mueller: “I teach first grade in a rural school in my home town of Riceville, Iowa. Our school is small and struggling to make ends meet, but the kids we teach are fantastic and only deserve the best.
“I am the only first-grade teacher, with 24 first-graders.
“The best thing about my job is teaching kids to not only read, but to love at least one book.
“I wrote a letter to each of my students’ parents challenging them to participate in this campaign. I plan on doing it for my own sons, ages 8 and 3. I even told my parents that if buying a book is not in their budget, they could choose one from my classroom library.
“After 16 years of teaching and an obsession for book-buying, I have plenty to spare if necessary.”
Thoughtful parents introduce books very early in life. They read to their bellies while pregnant, let their infants chew on board books and enjoy story time together.
Parents who raise children surrounded by books and stories give their kids a leg up in life, because children who love books grow up to be good and attentive listeners. And kids who read for pleasure have ready access to heroes.
Wrap it and read it together: This is a simple concept with only one goal: To create and encourage a generation of readers.
Readers can see a home video of me reading with my favorite toddler on familyreading.org.
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