BULLETIN: My mother-in-law, Kathleen Kennon, died last night after twenty-two days in the hospital. She was 97. I’ll be off line for a while.
A Day without Reading is a Day without Enlightenment
In a time when too many people seem intent upon getting books OUT of the hands of kids (see Dr. Wesley Scroggins, Missouri State University—look under IIB for “Ignorance Is Bliss”), it’s so nice to know some people are working like blazes (see “Hell Hath no Fury Like a Librarian Scorned”) to get books INTO the hands of young readers. A book can change a life, and the right book can even save a life, which is something that Denise Gary, PJ Haarsma, and Nathan Fillion (yes, THE Nathan Fillion of Castle, Serenity, and Desperate Housewives fame—see Heartthrob, in the index of Ruggedly Handsome) have teamed up to make happen. These three started an organization called Kids Need to Read to provide books to underfunded school and public libraries. To get the lowdown go to http://www.kidsneedtoread.org/ and play the video starring Nathan.
This past weekend KNTR had a fabulous fundraiser at Usery Mountain Park in Mesa, Arizona, where several bestselling authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, professors, young readers, local businesses, and the park system teamed up to put on a full day of hiking activities, including pledges to support various authors, like PJ (the Softwire series from Candlewick and a whole new series to be announced any day, now) and also Tom Leveen (Party, Random House, 2010). Janette Rallison, whose books have topped a million volumes in sales (Hurray for Scholastic Book Clubs!), was there doing face-painting (Hey, Janette, can you paint me to look like Nathan Fillion?), and Steven Riley was telling stories and drawing, along with Brooke Bessesen, Chris Gall, the Chick-File cow (who got a little hot in the desert sun), and all sorts of Phoenix area businesses who provided food and tents and drinks and even puppies (they were so cute!). What a great day.
Many thanks to students from Arizona State University and Professor Peter Goggin for hiking, pledging, and providing great camaraderie! The tally has not been completed but thousands of dollars were raised to provide books to young readers who need them so very badly.
Why put books in the hands of kids? Who cares about reading? Although it’s never been proven or disproven, upon meeting Harriet Beech Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote this book that stirred up such a fuss!!” I don’t care whether he every really said it or not; it’s exactly the kind of thing he WOULD have said. Lincoln, who had an affinity for making such dry/humorous remarks, once complained very seriously upon being accused of being “two-faced,” remarking “Madame, if I had two faces, would I be wearing this one?” Uncle Tom’s Cabin didn’t start the war that freed a major portion of the human race from slavery, but its impact to move hearts and minds at the time is undeniable. Abraham Lincoln understood the power of books. He was a backwoodsman and feared barnyard wrestler who carried around law books and taught himself well enough to become a highly successful trial attorney and eventually the most important president in the history of our country.
Books continue to move the hearts and minds of people and make the world a better place. Thousands of kids write letters every day to authors like Chris Crutcher, Christopher Paul Curtis, Sherman Alexie, Bill Konigsberg, Coe Booth, and of course, Laurie Halse Anderson (whose book Speak has been the subject of Dr. Scroggins’ censorship efforts because it is about the rape of a ninth grade girl and how she survives). In these letters to the authors, young readers and their friends thank them for telling the stories of a thousand troubles, troubles that break body and spirit and often lead to suicide. I’ve seen the letters and blog posts to Laurie in which young women explain how Speak changed their lives and often save their lives. The feelings of humiliation, powerlessness, and self-doubt lead to self injury, abuse, and the sort of depression that is unbearable, but a book like Speak shows readers that they are not alone, that it’s not their fault, and that they can emerge victorious from even the most horrid of life’s events. The power of literature is an awesome thing in its full force.
Although he probably never really said it exactly this way, Sir Francis Bacon is often cited as extolling that “knowledge is power,” and very few educated folks have never heard the words of John, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” from the New Testament. John was talking about a very specific truth, one which has been the subject of reading by more people on the face of this planet than any other, in a book called The Holy Bible, and although I know you’ve heard of it, Dr. Scroggins, being the minister of a Christian church, I’m not sure you’ve ever really read it. There’s a lot in it about making the world a better place for other. Try reading it some time. Maybe it will change your life, too.James Blasingame is an associate professor of English at Arizona State University. He is the author of several books on reading and writing, and president of the NCTE’s Assembly on Literature for Adolescents. He is a past winner of the International Reading Association’s Arbuthnot Award, and the Arizona State University Parents Association Professor of the Year. His monthly column on young adult literature can be found in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy
My thanks to Jim for providing us with so much to consider. Please share your thoughts and comments.
Here’s the latest on our Woza Woza Poem. I borrowed from both Cory and Silindile to move us ahead another couple of lines. The space travel hasn’t worked in yet but this may be a bit early to leave the forest. I’m keeping a file of all your suggestions and working them in as we go. I don’t mean to take over this poem so please keep your ideas coming. Remember, we need to keep our thoughts on the logistical issue of how to sustain the poem over the entire month. Also, the lines have six beats each and the meter is iambic: ta DA ta DA ta DA ta DA ta DA ta DA.
Today I witnessed something I’d never seen before –
A sea of cinnamon swirls surfed the forest floor.
The reason for the swirling suddenly dawned on me –
Tiny brown-clad creatures surfed that cinnamon sea!
Tiny brown-clad creatures wearing leather hats
Trimmed with golden feathers! Can you imagine that?
They danced in whirling circles, singing to themselves.
I blinked my eyes in wonder, these tiny folk were elves!
They sang of distant places, they sang of sea and foam,
They sang of Woza Woza, the elves’ ancestral home.
The magic of their voices carried me along
As faster whirled the circles, higher pitched their song
Of fairies, trolls, and giants, mere humans never know