Access Point by Donalyn Miller
My husband remembers the book he picked from the RIF bus. It was about this kid who was a troubled youth, and he winds up working for this guy to pay off a debt. The guy marks out his yard in a 7X7 grid of squares and has the kid examine the contents of each square—what grows there, what bugs live there. Don doesn’t remember the book’s title, which seems the least important memory to keep now.
Don’s second job was in a public library. He was a library page. The pages would get the books from the book drops and return desks, then sort and shelve them. Occasionally, a book needed repairs. All of the library pages read like crazy. They scoped out books for each other in the stacks. Don read The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice, The Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and every random book that caught his eye. The pay wasn’t bad, either, and the librarians were nice.
Books were my adventures away from school and three younger siblings. I went to the library with my sister every week. I always checked out the thickest book I could carry, so it would last me from Saturday to Saturday. That was my only criteria. It had to be 400 pages plus or it wasn’t worth my time.
I read some interesting things using that selection strategy—Evergreen by Belva Plain, The World According to Garp by John Irving, James Michener’s Centennial. I was an indiscriminate reader. I just wanted words.
Don and I fell in love in bookstores. In the early years of our marriage, our favorite cheap date was dinner at the Chinese buffet and a two-hour crawl through the used-book store down our street. Any extra dime we could spare, we spent on used paperbacks. To make our money stretch, we compromised on books—-passing them between us. Every story was like a secret we shared. He gave me Neil Gaiman and I gave him Guy Gavriel Kay. I fell in love with the guy who introduced me to Sandman. It was that simple.
Don and I didn’t have much when we were growing up, but we had what we needed to become readers. We had libraries. We had librarians. We had bookstores. Our parents knew that we needed to read.
We grew up in large families with stretched resources, but Don and I could always get five dollars for the book order. A couple of books a month for years grows into quite a collection. Younger siblings inherited books—-the best sort of hand-me-downs.
As a teacher and mom, it saddens me how few of my students own books or a library card. We seem to have forgotten the most important thing kids need to become readers—-something to read. Something worth reading. Something they can read. Something they want to read.
Children who own books develop stronger reading habits and abilities (Clark & Poulton, 2011). Children with access to 500 books from birth to 18 have three years higher educational attainment than the children who don’t have the books (University of Reno, 2010). We have studies that go back decades telling us children need access to books to become readers. Why can’t we get books into every child’s hands?
You will tell me that we don’t have money. Local governments and school districts are strapped. We seem to have money for some things. We seem to have money for test prep and motivational pencils. If we came together and ensured that every child in our communities had book access, we would change the world. Why can’t we do it? What’s stopping us?
The first new books I bought with my own money were college textbooks. It took a lot of threadbare paperbacks and library books to get me to college. Without reading and books, I might not have made it all.
Clark, C and Poulton, L. (2011). Book ownership and its relation to reading enjoyment, attitudes, behaviour and attainment. London: National Literacy Trust.
University of Nevada, Reno. (2010, May 21). Books in home as important as parents’ education in determining children’s education level. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 24, 2014 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100520213116.htm
Donalyn Miller has been a fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies teacher. Donalyn is the Manager of Independent Reading and Outreach for Scholastic Book Fairs. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.