When I think of my parents, I think of them reading: my father in his green velour recliner, a history of Ancient Greece or Kievan Rus open in his hands, my mother on the couch with half a dozen books spread around her, linguistics texts, children’s picture books, literary fiction in Russian and English, Shakespeare. My parents are readers, and some of my earliest memories are of being read to by my mother, in Russian, from Russian fairytales and classics.
Now, my house is still full of books, and my children have hundreds—even thousands—of books within arm’s reach, every day. I don’t remember a day since their births that I haven’t read to them. I can’t imagine a house without books in it.
And yet, there are many children who do not live amongst such wealth. There are many children who will not have memories of being read to by their parents. When I was about ten, a neighbor boy named Michael, who was around six, lived in a home with no books. He had no adults who read to him. He often came to my house and sat on the couch with my siblings and me, listening to my mother read to all of us. Even though she read in Russian, Michael sat quietly and listened to the unfamiliar language, looking at the pictures, experiencing what it meant to be near someone reading to him.
Over the past three weeks, I collected more than one thousand children’s books to donate to the Family Resource Center at Charter Oak Academy in West Hartford, Connecticut. This was my culminating project for a twenty-week leadership course that I recently completed. I asked people for books, and they gave. The wonderful thing about books is that they’re a kind of wealth that people readily share. Books are a wealth that people pass on to others.
This morning, I took the sixteen boxes of books to the Family Resource Center. I imagine them being sorted, distributed, some being put into the hands of children like Michael, children who are not so fortunate to grow up among a wealth of books.