I don't know how to express its importance. Maybe that is because I've never found it unimportant and can't fathom why anyone would. It's kept me company on lonely days. It's shown me happiness in places and situations I couldn't imagine. It's been a source of hope and understanding when I've needed it. It's given me empathy for people unlike myself, with an understanding of why they are the way they are and why I am the way I am. But most of all it's been a way to connect. My love of reading is an important part of me, and I believe reading should be an important part of everyone's lives.
"Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood." –John Green
In my elementary years, I don't remember having a love of reading. I remember going to the library and learning about the card catalog, though I'm not sure why since the school had just purchased a computer catalog system to replace it, but I don't remember checking out books or sitting for hours reading. My love of reading didn't start until middle school from my recollection.
"There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over." –Gail Carson Levine
My school was fortunate enough to have a RIF program. The Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) program gave away books to students once or twice per year. Every student went down to the auditorium, where table after table was set up with stacks of books from every genre, reading level, and length. Sometimes you picked up a book that had an interesting cover without giving it much thought. Sometimes you skimmed the back cover and found one that you had never heard of but sounded interesting. And sometimes you were lucky enough to pick up the book that everyone was excited for (Harry Potter was such a book for me).
"A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading." –William Styron
On this particular RIF day in middle school, I skimmed through the tables with the rest of my class. All of us standing in front of these tables, some of the students grabbing any book in front of them just to be done, while others like myself took some time to actually look. I don't remember that title of the book that caught my eye, but the author certainly became a favorite - Lurlene McDaniel.
"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." –Paul Sweeney
Lurlene McDaniel writes books for middle school age children, and the stories usually revolve around a young adult who has some sort of illness to be dealt with (cancer, diabetes, transplants, etc) and there is usually a hint of a romance in it. So basically it's middle school appropriate books that sound like Lifetime movies. Yep, that's what pulled my interest. But once it had me, boy was I hooked.
"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?" –Henry Ward Beecher
Every trip to the mall my family took included a stop at Waldenbooks. And to the back corner of the book store I went, looking through the books in alphabetically order until I found M. And there they were - a whole shelf of books by Lurlene McDaniel. Eventually my trips to the book store and gifts at holidays built my McDaniel collection to upwards of 30 books. I read and reread them over and over again. Eventually I branched out into all the Little House books, other teen romances, and suggestions from teachers. From then on wherever I went, I had a book with me; my love of reading had taken off.
"If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all." –Oscar Wilde
So what is the point of this story. The SCC community didn't need to know about my story, about the RIF program or about my youthful love of Lurlene McDaniel. The point is the gift. The gift of that first book, even though it was for school, even though I got to pick it, even though at the time I probably wasn't as enthused about it as I would later be, that gift made all the difference in the world to me. It made me into the book and story lover I am today and led to a career I truly enjoy.
"Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him." –Maya Angelou
So as you go into the holiday season and start purchasing gifts for loved ones young and old, consider adding a book to your offering. You never know when a book will spark a persons imagination and passion, for reading or for anything else in life.