Before Faulkner and Tolstoy and Dickens and Lewis, one author had a profound impact on my life. In fact, we might say he started it all. With his whimsical characters and silly rhymes, he showed me the power of words, imagery and imagination.
His name is Dr. Seuss.
My first Seuss book was Green Eggs and Ham. If I remember correctly, it was a gift from my Uncle Grant. My parents read it to me before I could talk. By the time I was a preschooler, I had it memorized, and my dad and I would go back and forth reciting it to one another.
“That Sam I am! That Sam I am! I do not like that Sam I am!”
Even as I write this post, the refrain is playing in my head: “I do not like green eggs and ham! I do not like them, Sam I am!”
Later, of course, there were other Seuss books, Horton hears a Who!, The Grinch that Stole Christmas, Hop on Pop. The list goes on.
And there were other authors and other books. A Child’s Garden of Verses was one of the next books my parents added to my collection. And yes, nearly 50 years later, I still remember lines from Stevenson’s poems,
“Oh, how I love to go up in the air, up in the air so high…”
“When I was sick and lay abed, I had two pillows at my head…”
And one about a barn loft that my brother and I used to recreate in the top of my grandfather’s barn.
The point is books matter. Reading matters, and yet, according to the Literacy Project Foundation, illiteracy has become such a problem in the U.S. that 44 million adults are unable to read a simple story to their children — a book like Green Eggs and Ham. Six out of 10 households do not buy a single book a year, and 44 percent of American adults do not read one book a year. Obviously, these trends have significant impacts with far-reaching implications on the national economy and on society as a whole.
So, what can you do about it? Here are a few suggestions:
- Read to your kids, and take the time to read for pleasure yourself. Turn off the television, get off Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any other social media venues I may have missed and open a book. (By the way, it’s OK to use an electronic device to read a book. Just turn off the notifications while you are reading.)
- Check out your local library. Many now provide the opportunity to check out books online.
- Don’t know where to start? Look over the New York Times Bestseller List, Pulitzer Prize winners from the last several years and National Book Award finalists. Those lists are where I found treasures like The Orphan Master’s Son and All the Light We Cannot See.
- Join a book club at your local library or with a group of friends. Talk about what you are reading with others.
- Start a “book club” with your kids. Set aside an hour or two one night a week to read a book together aloud. Then talk about what you are reading.