D ear 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.
Many of us this week 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. (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, around 60 years ago.)
According to a recent study of 26,000 Chicago schoolchildren conducted by the University of Chicago, early literacy has a direct bearing on 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.
This is the fifth anniversary of my campaign to share a gift-giving tradition that is straightforward, inexpensive and reaps boundless and lifelong rewards.
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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 many others) 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.”
I have teamed with The Family Reading Partnership (familyreading.org) in my hometown of Ithaca, N.Y. With its help, this simple concept has spread through libraries, schools, churches and bookstores across this country and beyond.
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.
This idea is not limited to Christmas, of course. Going to bed with a new book on each night of Hanukkah (which ends this year on Christmas Eve) would be wonderful. The whole idea is to borrow this tradition and make it yours.
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. Readers know that if you have a book, you are never alone.
We may have already 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. One of my favorite letters came from a school librarian who encouraged families to put a “book on every bed.” The librarian spread the word the old-fashioned way – through notes stuck in students’ backpacks. Thank you all. Keep it going.
To view a silly “instructional” video of me and my two favorite young readers – and to share your own stories and photos – check familyreading.org or my Facebook page: facebook.com/Adickinsondaily.