The “Culture” in a Reading Culture

A reading culture is quite simply the creation of an environment that pushes for opportunities to read. It tends to be common sense in education (at least on paper) that developing a reading culture at home, in the classroom, in our libraries, is essential to life. Indeed, reading the greats (or the great whites) is one thing, but what is a reading culture nowadays if it doesn’t take you to a zone that you didn’t even know you could enter, that you didn’t know existed? What is a collection of children’s books worth if it doesn’t give young readers the means to travel to new lands, and maybe even through time?  In the age of the Internet, and protests it seems, this element of surprise is difficult to attain, but I can’t stop thinking that there is no greater opportunity than the one found in the purest of hearts and minds — our children. So let’s start there.

I had first found my imagination — yes, my whole imagination — within the pages of a bright yellow cloth-covered smyth sewn young adult novel from my grandfather’s library. I don’t remember how old I was. I don’t even remember the title, and I had read so many “age-appropriate,” “subject-appropriate” children’s books before I had even blown the dust off of this one; but I’ll never forget how encapsulated I was by the life of a young boy, the main character, a strong swimmer, and blind.

Daily, he would take to the waters below these bluffs near his house and overcome what would otherwise be an ailing diversity.
screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-3-00-44-pm The images danced around me for 100-some-odd pages. He became my friend, and his friends became my friends. For a summer, I lived as the girl next door and felt the humidity from the sea. I watched the clouds roll by when they did and felt the breeze blow through my hair as I stood atop the steep bluffs watching, admiring. His head bobbed in and out of the water as he came up for air. Odd for a girl growing up in the country, my first crush was someone I would never have met outside of those pages.

I remember coming away from this realm wanting to read it over again. I think I remember not fully understanding, but wanting to. How can we — parents, teachers, caregivers — cultivate this eagerness for clarity in our children? And give them the tools that they need to think critically about religion, language, food, colour, thoughts, expression, all of the beautiful things in the world. I want to know and am eager to find out. This blog is my vote for words, words matched with beautiful illustrations. The most beautiful gift that you can give a new life. There are so many beautiful children’s books published and I want to focus on the “culture” in our reading cultures, at home, at school, in our libraries. I want to give children the opportunity to travel to new places, try different foods, and at least recognize the symbols of another language.

I’ll never ever forget how powerful it was, the reading of something other than myself, and something’s gotta be said for that power. Now I have a daughter and am even more invested in exercising her ability to comprehend difference. I want her to know how important it is to have an appreciation for it, to embrace it in herself and in others, to meditate on it and even love it. How to do this, without pushing it in her face? I don’t think anyone will ever be sure. But for now it can’t hurt to have the right books lying around.

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” — Maya Angelou

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