Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Power of the Written Word

In honor of Share a Story, Shape a Future Week, I wanted to share some of the experiences I have had working with children’s literacy. I have been fortunate enough to see first-hand the effect a book can have on a child’s life. We don’t often consider how valuable a single book can be. But one book can change a life.

I deliver books to many classrooms in high-need middle and elementary schools for my nonprofit, Breaking the Chain, and I usually have the opportunity to speak with the students who receive the books. It is impossible to adequately convey the joy and excitement expressed by the children when they see the books. As soon as their teacher allows them to, they run to the boxes and grab as many books as they can to take back to their desks. They smile, they laugh, they dance around. It’s better than a birthday party. Often, they’ll ask if they can take a book home to keep. Many have never owned a book of their own.

Those children are delighted to have a book in their hands for the pure enjoyment it brings to them. They aren’t aware of the frightening statistics about literacy; that a child will likely remain illiterate for the rest of their life if they don’t learn to read by age of 10, or that two-thirds of children who do not know how to read by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. They don’t realize that knowing how to read will change their lives and give them the chance to choose their own destiny. They only know that they love books.

When I see the children who receive books from Breaking the Chain, I am always reminded how important reading has been in my life. From a very early age, my mom was reading to me and my brother. We were constantly surrounded by books. Books were like old friends and a constant source of entertainment; nothing else provided the same level of enjoyment and escape. As I grew older, I began to realize how much I gained from those books. I loved every book for a reason, each of them took me somewhere I had never been before, showed me a different perspective, or taught me something new. I learned who I am through books. I learned what I believe, what makes my nose crinkle in dislike, what makes my heart soar, what I aspire to be, and what I dream of.

I firmly believe that the most important thing we can do as a society is provide all children with a better future by teaching them how to read. All it takes is one book, one story, and a child becomes enthralled with the magic found only in books. Nothing else provides children with the escape that they crave and, no matter the topic, gives them a sense of wonder, adventure, and connection.

It only takes one book, one magical experience, and a child becomes a lifelong reader. The ability to read profoundly affects every minute of our lives; literacy is the single-most important component of becoming a functioning adult. As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “Literacy is not just about reading and writing; it is about respect, opportunity and development.”

Literacy begins with a single book. Dreams begin with a single book.

So this week, share a story with a child you care about. There is no greater gift.


Dawn Morris said...

You are wise well beyond your years, Riley! I especially loved the sentence:

"I learned who I am through books."

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, and for all that you've done in the name of literacy. You have a very bright future ahead of you!

Anonymous said...

Yep, Dawn pointed to my "it" sentence, too. I stopped in the middle of reading to tweet it and didn't realize that she had left a comment!

Your description of a classroom delivery gives me hope. Thanks for all you do, Riley!

Chris Singer (@book_dads) said...

Riley, you're truly an inspiration! You're a terrific role model for girls and young women and as a father to an almost 2 year old girl, believe me when I tell you how important that is to me.

I've been to Uganda and handed children there, their very own book and clothes. Nothing, besides the joy I get at seeing my own daughter enjoy books, can match that feeling.

Thanks for your commitment to literacy!

The Book Chook said...

Yes, yes YES! You put it so eloquently Riley. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, and for highlighting the gift that is literacy.

Melissa Taylor said...

Thanks for being such an advocate for literacy and children, Riley! You inspire us all!!

Tif said...

Spoken very well!!! Love this post! :)

Riley Carney said...

Thank you all so much for your comments and your support. It means a lot to me coming from you, since you are all such advocates for literacy, too! Thank you for all YOU do!


Michelle said...

Love this post. I feel so sad when I hear of kids not owning any books.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Riley, you literally are my hero. And you are right about literacy and, even more importantly, the love of reading, being keys to the future. I take my therapy dog, Auggie, to the classroom to teach kids to write. It is such a joy to watch kids light up to a story they've created, or to engage them in one that we read together. Thanks for all the good you do out there! You are simply amazing.