Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR READERS: This is a special day for me, because this is the day I take a break from hosting your questions in order to advocate for a cause that is very near and dear to me: Literacy.

In my long career as a writer and reader, I have volunteered in classrooms, libraries and prisons, reading with others and sharing the work of writers important in my own life. I do so in honor of my late mother Jane, who passed along to me her own love of reading and writing — first as a young child on our somewhat isolated dairy farm, and later as adults, when we shared books and letters back and forth, sometimes over great distances. This is a legacy I continue to happily share — through the many books I recommend in this space, and also the two memoirs I have authored (my next book comes out in March 2017).

What I learned from my mother’s life-lesson is that when you have a book, you are never alone. Reading unlocks worlds of imagination and creativity. Literacy imparts real power, and this is especially important for people who feel powerless.

The magic of literacy can happen at any time, but it is especially important in childhood. Reading helps a young child’s brain develop and mature. Reading for pleasure is a lifelong gift of entertainment and learning.

Today, on my mother’s birthday, I joyfully share a simple idea that adults can easily adopt in order to give the children in their lives the gift my mother gave to me, by putting a “Book on Every Bed.”

CELEBRATE THE GIVING SEASON

Here’s what to do: On Christmas morning (or whatever holiday you celebrate), make sure that each child in your household wakes up to a wrapped book at the foot of their bed. The gift could be a new book — or an old favorite from your own childhood. If your family celebrates Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, imagine the possibilities for starting each celebratory morning with a story!

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After the child unwraps the book, the most important aspect of this gift is unveiled, when the parent sits and shares it with the child. The sad fact is that more than a third of families in the United States do not share books with their young children regularly. Starting a celebration morning by reading together will forge an unforgettable intimacy for both the child and the parent.

REACH OUT AND READ

I am joining forces this year with the wonderful national literacy project, Reach Out and Read. This nonprofit organization is powered by pediatricians who share a common goal — to make sure that all parents and caregivers understand the importance of reading aloud, so that all children are given a solid foundation for success.

Reach Out and Read doctors talk with families about reading aloud at routine child health checkups, from infancy until they start school — those first few years, when it really counts. They encourage parents to enjoy sharing books regularly with their infants, toddlers and preschoolers, and give each child a brand-new, “doctor-recommended” book to take home and keep. Taking a book home after a doctor’s visit is just as sweet as receiving a lollypop, and lasts much longer.

By working with parents at pediatric health checks, physicians have an opportunity to reach 91 percent of all families with children younger than 5. In fact, the Reach Out and Read program already serves more than 4.7 million children each year, including a quarter of all children from low-income families in the United States.

This is an important prescription for health and success in growing brains — and sharing a book is a wonderful way for families to connect. Every year I hear from teachers, librarians, parents and grandparents who tell me they have adopted the “book on every bed” tradition in their homes. I can think of no nicer way to kick off a busy Christmas morning than by snuggling up with a book before opening other gifts.

Parents and caregivers can put a book on every bed in their own households; you can also help to spread the cause of literacy by generously sharing this idea in your own community. For families who celebrate through service projects, I suggest adopting a local classroom or day care center and providing a book for each child to unwrap on Christmas morning.

To learn more, and to watch an “instructional” video of me demonstrating this concept with my two favorite dollies, go to reachoutandread.org — or my own Facebook page: facebook.com/ADickinsonDaily.