When I ask people to name the one best thing that boosted their early journey, they almost always say books.
After family and friends and pets, of course.
Books were a blessing in our farmhouse, where work took precedence over everything, and leisure was almost always physical — riding bikes, climbing trees, racing about with other kids.
Books, then, were a luxury. Reading was not.
My earliest memories are of my mother reading to me and my sisters before we went to sleep. There was never any time during busy farm days to read for herself, yet she took time in the evenings to introduce us to classics like Gulliver’s Travels and Charlotte’s Web.
When I was old enough, I read books aloud to my younger brothers. If it was a joy to read to them then — small, blonde heads turned to every page — then it’s even more of a joy to hold that recollection now.
There was no Disney in our house, and TV was limited, so books were ever-important as we grew. I never wanted dolls or toys for gifts — only books.
One of the best Christmas gifts was an entire set of Nancy Drew books. After reading and re-reading each one, I traded my cousins (all boys) for their Hardy Boys series. Funny, but they had little interest in Nancy’s sleuthing.
I graduated to reading all of my parents’ Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries, then my dad’s prized Edgar Allan Poe books … then every single book in our house.
Through childhood, I was such a notorious reader that my parents had to beg or even command me to go outdoors. My mother complained I was too pale; I responded by taking my books outside to read under big, shade maples.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy all the adventures on our farm — I just didn’t want to leave the more exciting world of others’ imaginations.
It was no wonder that I became a writer, from a young age, and then a journalist. Words always fascinate.
That’s why I give books as gifts: Sharing my love of writing is a gift to myself too.
I could cite all the stats that prove early reading is the best start we can give to children. I could use numbers to show that early literacy makes a difference in financial and career success, in navigating our complex world, and in physical and mental health.
Instead, I’m sending $25 — about the price of my usual book buys — to the Portland-based Children’s Book Bank, to ensure more youngsters get the same early opportunity for reading that I enjoyed. Book Bank staff estimate there is only one book per 300 children in their low-income neighborhoods.
I’m clicking every morning too, at The Literacy Site (it’s free), to ensure that some child gets a free book that she can call her own.
Giving on Sundays is a weekly way of paying it forward, a key to living in gratitude.