My kids talk. A lot. But a large and healthy vocabulary is a gift all parents should give their children. At least that’s what I keep telling myself whenever I can get a word in edgewise.
The seed to a garden of so many words and sentences and paragraphs is found in a book. My children have outgrown “Goodnight Moon” and “Knuffle Bunny” and “One Fish, Two Fish,” and the truth is, I miss them sometimes. Reading to my kids gave something to both of us; it’s a give and take of knowledge and language, but also of bonding and irreplaceable memories. I could probably recite “Goodnight Moon” from memory if they’d ask, but they aren’t asking anymore; they’re too old for that “great green room.”
There are plenty of ways to keep our kids reading even once they’ve passed the age of tuck-ins at bedtime. There is school, of course, and read-a-thons. There are books that are made into films to capture their interest and, hopefully, make them curious for the source material. There are wizards and castles and magic tree houses. There are lions, witches and wardrobes.
And there is the library. I defy any child to walk through the pastel forest that is the Children’s Department entryway of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, and not be drawn to the stained-glass house, the low-to-the-ground tables and the rows upon rows of mind-opening books.
Kids, this department is your great green room that will set you on a course of lifetime reading.
I learned the other day of a policy I hadn’t previously known. It seems that if your child has late fines in the Memphis Public Library system, he or she can go in and read for a preset amount of time in the presence of a librarian and that fine, or portions of that fine, will be dismissed.
Had I known about it over the course of the last 16 years with four kids, it could have saved me tens of dollars in nickel late fees.
What a wonderful policy, though. It teaches children that knowledge is more valuable than money.
Another way to interest children in the world of literature happens this weekend. It’s Literacy Mid-South’s first Mid-South Book Festival taking place from Thursday to Sunday. Saturday afternoon at Memphis Botanic Garden, there will be an outside children’s area with costumed characters, sidewalk chalk for writing haikus, a play by ShoWagon of Theatre Memphis, and Chef Dough Dough (Dolores Grisanti Katsotis) will give a cooking demonstration from her children’s cookbook.
There is plenty for adult readers, too, of course, and I’ll be moderating a Q&A session Saturday morning with Courtney Miller Santo, local author of “Three Story House” and “The Roots of the Olive Tree.”
Kevin Dean, executive director of Literacy Mid-South, warns that “If a child isn’t proficient in reading by the third grade, there’s a good chance that we’ve lost him forever. And you can’t rely solely on the school system to do that, that has to start at home.”
My passion for reading began early through trips with my mother to the public library when it was at Peabody and McLean in Midtown. That interest and curiosity is probably the greatest gift she ever gave me.