Earlier this month I was put to the task of picking out a baby book, in lieu of a card, for my cousin Katie’s baby shower. She wanted me to pick a book that meant something to me when I was a child, a story I could share with her baby. I thought this was really sweet, and it got me really excited about what book I was going to pick.
I found one of the most prized books of my childhood while visiting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It’s called “Let the Celebration Begin!” The book is about women and children trying to prepare for Hanukkah for the littlest children. Although no words like “Holocaust” or “Nazi” or “concentration camp” are used, it is the story of survival in a concentration camp. That first time I read it, when it was actually read to me by my teacher at school, I remember how she closed gently it and then began the conversation many parents probably dreaded having with their children. That first conversation about the Holocaust. All these years later, I find myself now in the process of applying to the University of Amsterdam to take a Master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The whole journey came flashing to me when I saw the cover of “Let the Celebration Begin!” there on the shelf in the museum gift shop. For a moment I contemplated buying it for Katie’s baby, but then I realized that was probably a bit too heavy of a foot to start on.
What I ended up picking out was a book called “Ancient Thunder” by Leo Yerxa. Not one that I had read as a child, but one I know I would have dearly loved. While it wasn’t representative of my personal journey as a reader (unlike “Let the Celebration Begin!”), it’s a book that combines my cousin’s love of horses with a beautiful story and eye-catching images — it’s a book I can see us talking about, and one I can see reading to little Angelica or Frank (sorry Katie those were the first names that came to my mind.) And it’s that lovely experience of reading that truly thrills me.
Reading can’t begin in a person’s life without a community there to make it happen. Reading wouldn’t exist without teachers, schools, classes, and baby books. Where I think the written literate culture fails is when something that once was such a social activity is suddenly expected to become so independent. When I look back to when I started reading on my own, I remember wishing I could have struggled longer so my Dad could have read with me longer, so we could talk about the story, so we could laugh at all the jokes, so we could share that knowledge together.
This is why reading sometimes feels like a flat experience to me. I do still love reading alone, but often I think reading shouldn’t just be a read-with-the-eyes experience, it should be oral and aural. It should be sharing, not hoarding (I say this rather hypocritically, knowing piles of books are stacked throughout my room, both back home and here in D.C.) It’s about discussion and debate. Heck, even misreading of texts should be an integral part of the experience of reading.
So while even though by signing up for Bookstravaganza I put myself in dangerous territory of becoming a hermit, by blogging about what I am reading, by hopefully discussing it on Facebook or twitter and with friends and family in person, I can share the sweetness of an experience with a book that endures after I close its cover.
Now if you read my bio, you’ll have read that I am currently situated in Washington D.C. at the International Student House. In addition to writing the reviews, I’d like to include audio or video file of a fellow resident reading an excerpt of the book, and then telling us what the experience of reading means to them. This will add another dimension to my reviews, and I think may be more inclusive than my wordy, ranty reviews (ex. like this one) have been in the past. The multiple perspectives and accents I am surrounded strikes me every day, and I simply know that a month from now I’ll be curled up in my room, in my bed, reading alone, missing all of them. For the ten days I will be back in Canada and still reading, I plan to ask family and friends, those voices I already so dearly miss, to contribute the rest of the audio/video files.
While I hope you enjoy my reviews and the videos, I equally hope you will think about what I said, and donate to the Welcome Baby program at the Edmonton Public Library, a program which gives new parents a free library card for their child, books and other tools to help their baby learn to read. It is a great initiative that not only encourages written literacy, but also, as I’ve discussed, facilitates the first beautiful experience of sharing knowledge for a child. I want our children to learn to read, but more than ever I want our children to learn how to share their knowledge, to share it with all the world, and never ever ever stop.