Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR READERS: This is one of my favorite days of the year because this is the day I get to step out from behind my desk and advocate — simply and sincerely — for literacy. I choose this particular day because it is my mother’s birthday. She was a reader, writer and teacher, and I can think of no better way to honor her memory than to ask other readers to participate in the “Book on Every Bed” project.
This week many of us are scurrying around, looking for the “perfect” gift. And yet, looking back through our own holiday memories, we realize the best gifts arrive in the form of traditions or objects that we can look at and know exactly where they came from. We invest these simple possessions with meaning and memories, particularly when we connect them with nurturing relationships. (In fact, during a recent family discussion, my older cousin told our aunt that she still has the book “Madeline” our aunt gave to her, about 60 years ago.)
According to a position paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics (and many other studies), early literacy has a direct bearing on educational success later in life. We don’t need a study to tell us this, however. Reading opens the door to all good things. Literacy offers both connection and escape.
I’m so proud to advocate for a gift-giving tradition that is straightforward, inexpensive and reaps boundless and lifelong rewards.
A “borrowed” concept: Like all my best ideas, this was stolen (borrowed, really). Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough (author of the books “Truman,” “John Adams” and his new book, “The Wright Brothers”) once related in an interview that every Christmas morning during his childhood, he and his siblings awoke to the gift of a wrapped book on their beds, delivered in the night by Santa.
Thus was born “A Book on Every Bed.”
This year I have partnered with Reach Out and Read (reachoutandread.org), a national organization that gives children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together. As the organization’s member doctors tell us, “Books Build Better Brains!”
Santa does the work. Here’s how it happens: You take a book (it can be new or a favorite from your own childhood).
You wrap it. On Christmas Eve (or whatever holiday you celebrate), you leave the book in a place where Santa is likely to find it. When I communicated with David McCullough about borrowing his idea, he was very clear: Santa handles the delivery and places the book on a child’s bed.
In the morning, the children in your household will awaken to a gift that will far outlast any toy: a guided path into the world of stories. And as our friends at Reach Out and Read remind us: Give not just the gift of the book, but also provide a caring adult to share reading it aloud. An adult’s interaction with a young child over a book is what brings the story alive and gives reading the immense power it has to build brain circuitry. No amount of access to the latest screen or gadget can equal the powerful intimacy of sharing a book.
I know this for sure: No matter who you are or what you do, reading will unlock untold opportunities, mysteries and passions.
When you have a book and the ability to tell, read and share stories, you gain access to the universe of others’ imaginations. In honor of my mother, I’ll pass along some of her wisdom: When you have a book, you are never alone.
In the years I’ve advocated for this idea, I believe we have exceeded our original goal for 1 million children to wake up on Christmas morning to a wrapped book, and so this year’s appeal will be for parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians to continue to spread this concept in their families and communities.
Throughout the year, I enjoy hearing from people who tell me how they have adopted this project and adapted it to the needs of their community. Reach Out and Read clinics sometimes hand out “prescriptions to read”; maybe this could be just what the doctor ordered for this year. Thank you all. Keep it going.