Friday, March 2, 2012

It's Story Time In America: Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

There were two people outside of my family that inspired me to become a writer: Jim Henson and Dr Seuss. But that dream would have been meaningless if there had not been two people inside my family who told me it was okay if I wanted to write a novel, as long as I got my homework done first.

The children of readers become readers; a lucky few get to be writers.

Today is Dr Suess's birthday, which coincides with the National Education Association's "Read Across America" celebration. It's an entire day about childhood literacy.

I have come to understand that I was a lucky child; growing up it was a rare day indeed that wasn't about childhood literacy. From my earliest memories there was a shelf of books in my room. There was an orange shelf in our room stuffed with Golden Books, picture books, and Storybooks telling tales from Disney and the Bible... I romped with the Pokey Little Puppy, and sailed to a far off land where the Wild Things roamed. I helped The Little Engine up the big hill and helped Grover avoid the Monster at the End of his book. 

Why my dad painted that shelf bright orange, I will never know. Maybe my memory is faulty and it was really turquoise, but whatever the color, it was where we found our books. It was at my elbow when I sat by my sister, wandering the desert with the Israelites and I enduring the Long Cold Winter with Laura Engels Wilder.  

That shelf of a peculiar color seemed so large at one point and then suddenly it wasn't big enough to hold our library. My sister and I branched out on our own, leaving behind story time for the adventures of Nancy Drew and the Brothers Hardy. More and larger shelves replaced it, a library that grew at the same rate we did.

Today is a day that celebrates childhood literacy. Today is a day when I encourage everyone to sit down with a child and read if they can and donate to an organization that does if they cannot. But it takes more than that to make a reader: You have to read too.

Most people think of the image in the photo above when they think about encouraging children to read, sitting with a kid on your lap, doing all the voices as Grover tries to keep you from turning the pages. But that's not how my parents turned me into a reader. 

If they ever did that, I don't remember it.  

Of course they read to me, but the way they turned me into a reader was by being readers themselves. They made time in their day to turn off the television and open a book. They did it consistently across the entire course of my life. And for all my rebellions -- and they were many -- that was the image of adulthood that I carried with me.

So celebrate childhood literacy today. Read to a kid. Donate to the cause. Buy books for your local libraries and schools. But understand that childhood literacy isn't a holiday. It's not something we do once a year like Thanksgiving or Halloween.

If you make one day about literacy and you have made a start.  Make every day about literacy and you've made a reader.  

Visit the NEA Foundation's website at to learn more about how you can help improve childhood literacy in your area.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).