Thursday, September 9, 2010

Raising Readers

Millie writes:

If there's one subject upon which I wax evangelical (okay, there are lots of them, but this is a big one), it's kids learning to read. During my 3-year stint as an actual person back at the turn of the century (can you believe we can say that again?) I ran a reading program for 5-8-year-olds at the local elementary school. Our personal kids all read by age 3, not because I pushed them (I really didn't) but because it's so easy and natural to teach it. I think one of the reasons they all took to reading so readily has to do with one of my favorite traditions: The First Library Card.

Oh, you'd better believe it was an occasion, too. Not just any BABY could get a library card (even though our fabulous local library system would probably give a library card to a fetus, if the mother signed for it). In our family, you have to be able to write your name on the application form.

They'd practice and practice until their pencils were worn down to little nubs until they could spell their names (first AND last!) correctly and write them recognizably; then off we'd go to the library. The kid would whisper to the librarian that he was here to get a library card, please! (We went to the library at least once a week and everyone knew us, so I'd be able to tip the attendants off that this was An Occasion.) With a flourish, the head librarian would produce a signature card and I'll tell you, the Declaration of Independence was not signed with more aplomb than my 3-year-old kids applied to those 4x6 cards.

The presiding official (librarians are an unfailingly sporting breed) would always live up to the kid's expectations, too, and give a solemn speech about Responsibility and Cleanliness and Late Penalties, and shake the little hand when presenting the card. Once one of them called for everyone's attention (she shouted! In a library! My children were so shocked and impressed!), announced that there was now a New Cardholder at this library and everyone applauded. I think my kid was prouder at that moment than he was when he graduated from high school. I still get a lump in my throat just recalling it.

Think about it, though; in many cases a library card is the first “identification” a child has, the first thing he can carry in his wallet that didn't come with the wallet. It's an early sign that he is growing into his place in the world. Reading is one of the first of the Great Mysteries we decipher, one of the most important ways we have to find out how things work. A library card is the key to more secret codes than James Bond ever dreamed of – it is something that should be celebrated!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to the library.

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