Reading as a Lifelong Lifeline by Jane Kise

The first edition I read

Say out loud, “Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking.” That’s the full name of Astrid Lindgren’s classic character. Or, “Villa Villakulla”—the house where she lives. Isn’t it fun? I’m reading Pippi to my mother this month.

Why a children’s book? Mom was an elementary librarian. She so instilled a love of reading and of books in me that I thought no moments were sweeter than helping her complete the library inventory process each summer. I got to do the fiction shelves, working my way through each drawer of the card catalog (remember those?).

The best part of inventory? Once we finished discovering what was missing, I had private access to every book in that elementary school library. All the gems I’d found while checking each shelf? All the popular titles I hadn’t managed to grab hold of yet? I could haul them home for the summer!

Yep, Mom had me brainwashed in the best way possible that books were the best thing in the world. But Mom is now 92. A few years ago, a stroke robbed her of the joy of reading independently. She can still listen, but finding the right materials took some searching. I had to abandon Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows since she couldn’t remember from one visit to the next what had happened. It still saddens me that she’ll never know of Voldemort’s demise. I tried short stories with mixed results. Articles? Yes, but Mom had always loved fiction, so it seemed wrong to leave it behind altogether.

Then one evening I chanced to read her the first chapter from Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, which relates the author’s difficulties in her first year of teaching. When we came to a list of Donalyn’s favorite books, Mom perked up at the mention of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Konigsberg). “Oh, that is such a good story,” she commented.

And I thought, Why not try? I found a copy and it was magic. Mom had read it aloud to so many classes that she remembered the basics; thus, time in between chapters didn’t matter. She could follow the plot and laugh at James and Claudia, the two children who run away to live in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

So now we’re reading Pippi Longstocking. And she’s laughing out loud at Pippi’s first day of school and at the town ladies who think Pippi needs to live at an orphanage. Each chapter is a separate story, so it’s even easier for Mom to enjoy if a few weeks go by before we get back to it. She’s told me that Homer Price is next. Or maybe Mary Poppins. Or Pooh. Or—she’s remembered quite a few titles!

My big points? 1) What a heritage, to share over 50 years of books and reading with my mother the librarian—are you making books a heritage? 2) There’s power in those books that we return to again and again—are you allowing children to make the most of their favorites? 3) A life filled with books is still full, even if many other things go missing—are you helping others discover that truth?

Jane Kise is an education consultant and author of over 20 books, including her newest, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking for Our Schools (Corwin, 2013). She is known for giving books as presents, reading just about anything, and winning trivia contests over sci fi and fantasy classics.