Today is Read Across America Day. I had no idea until I turned on the morning news to find out what happened in the world overnight. According to the National Education Association website, Read Across America Day is an annual reading motivation and awareness day originally created in 1997 to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss.
I’m wondering why I didn’t know there was a Read Across America Day. My youngest daughter was just 11 the year they started it, so you’d think her teacher might have mentioned it. Maybe she did. Probably she did. My kids were never that good at being conduits for transmitting news from school–especially when that news was bad or about something they didn’t like.
Sadly, neither of my kids really liked to read all that much when they were younger. Not great news for a woman who is an avid reader and lover of books and who went on to become a novelist. Both of them liked to be read to, though, so at least I had that to cling to.
Books are truly the great love of my life. I remember once, years ago, when my kids and I had to move suddenly and unexpectedly from the house we’d lived in for nearly 15 years into a tiny 2-bedroom apartment. It was a necessary move brought on by the ugly events of that February 13th I talked about in my last post. Necessary to keep us all safe once we were back together again. In order to squeeze into that apartment, I had to seriously scale back, and that meant that I had to get rid of boxes and boxes and BOXES of books.
My uncle, who owned a building supply store at the time, let me hold a garage sale in his parking lot, and I can still remember standing behind this long table and watching people walk off with my books while tears streamed down my face. Letting those books go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been asked to do, and if my children’s lives hadn’t been at stake, I’m not sure I could have done it.
Books have been the one constant in my life, and they represented something so deep, they were such an integral part of me, I hurt physically when I let them go. I’m sure some people will think I’m weird for feeling that way, but I know there are at least a few of you who know exactly what I’m talking about. My kids didn’t understand me at the time, but I think they would now.
My oldest daughter didn’t read anything willingly until her senior year in high school, when her English teacher assigned her to read Jane Eyre. She stayed up all night one night reading that book–a fact which thoroughly delighted me. I’d been telling her for years that anyone would enjoy reading if they could just find the book that clicked with them. Naturally she didn’t believe me, but now she has wide and varied tastes in books, ranging from everything by Dean Koontz to anything she can get her hands on about the Dalai Lama.
My youngest daughter has been a sporadic reader from the time she started high school, but in the past year she has become almost consistent in carrying a book with her whenever she goes out. Her favorite author is Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and meeting her at the RWA conference in Reno last year was a thrill for her, but she also enjoys Lani Diane Rich, Jennifer Crusie, and Stephanie Feagan, to name just a few.
So even though both of my children are avid readers now that they’re adults, I’m thrilled to discover Read Across America Day. It makes me happy to know that somebody out there gets it. If your kids don’t celebrate Read Across America Day in school today, please celebrate with them at home. Reading is so much more than entertainment. It’s freedom.