Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why Books?

It was a dark and stormy night...

Most people would find this kind of night perfect for curling up with a book and a cup of tea, a perfect chance to read to your kids, all warm in their fuzzy jammies and slippers, propped up by pillows and stuffed animals, surrounded by a sliding stack of books to choose from. Those kids will grow up literate, able to spell and read more easily than the kids who won't be exposed to books and being read to.

Many children who don't have the opportunity to have books at home to read whenever they want, or to parents who have the energy to read aloud after a long day, will always be at a disadvantage in their schooling. Well, Page Ahead is working to change that.

The night that the Page Ahead Book Awards committee met at the Washington Mutual building featured an absolute downpour, a lot of rain even for Seattle. There were buckets of rain, bouncing knee high as it hit the streets, it was hard to see through the windshield, wind twisting the sheets of water sideways as I drove through the cross streets. The light in the streets was that yellow specifically featured in old movies, the rain glowing as the streetlamps came on all at once. Stormy, while inside the car it was cozy, dimly lit.

The Page Ahead meetings are held on the 48th floor, the Perkins Coie floor, and my ears always pop at 44. The windows in the office where we meet face the Sound and the ferries, West Seattle and the islands, and they shudder when gusts hit. It seems we are often just above jets as they fly in from the north to land at SeaTac. As awful as the weather was outside, it was warm and comfortable being in a room filled with people talking about choosing the best books for children.

Eight pages of books for us to peruse and choose from, we are looking for the single best book for children ages birth to 12: the best multicultural, read-aloud, and science books for at-risk kids. Page Ahead gives new books to kids who may never be able to own their own and studies show that children who own their own books are much better readers and so become much better students, and who knows where they will go from there?

So, we set out to choose books that could change a life, might inspire someone to become a teacher, a scientist, an astronaut, show that books can entertain as well as teach. Giving books to kids helps them to learn skills that will enable them to navigate the big, wide universe, to realize that there are other worlds out there than the ones they're in, that with what they learn they can make a difference in their lives, in others' lives.

I was from a pretty un-wealthy family and I can tell you that a library card and a mom who let us all buy books from the racks at the grocery store with the little bit of leftover money made a huge difference in who I grew up to be. Owning my very own books, books I could go back to over and over whenever I wanted, was like having a map of how to grow up.

I was given two books on my 9th birthday: A Wrinkle in Time was the very first, but not the last, time in my life that books showed me how a plain girl in glasses has power, and To Dance, To Dream showed me that grace and joy can belong to everyone (and that being a strong woman is really cool). Every child should have the chance to see themselves as heroes in their own lives.

So, here we are, feet firmly planted in the twins' broccoli patch, getting ready to send someone off onto an unending adventure, one that starts with the breathless opening of their very own books.

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