June 22

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Claire’s Day: Celebrating Young Readers by Julie K. Rubini

“Thank you for all you do,” the father said, with tears in his eyes. “You don’t understand what this award means to my daughter. She’s had it on her calendar for a month, crossing off the days counting down to Claire’s Day.”

Nearly nineteen years ago, my ten-year-old daughter, Claire, gave me “just one more hug” and skipped away with new-found friends off to her camp site.

I never saw her again.

Claire died as the result of a misdiagnosed heart condition and the inattention of an immature camp counselor.

Claire-bear as we affectionately called her, loved to dance, and organize creative play with her siblings and friends. But most of all, Claire was passionate about reading, and encouraging others to enjoy her favorite pastime.

Our little reader was gone too soon.

I was living every parent’s worst nightmare.

And I had to figure a way out of the darkness, in order to continue to be a wife to my husband, Brad, and to be there for my other two children, just 8 and 6 at the time.

We felt compelled to not only honor Claire in a way that was true to her, but to honor our relationships as a family as well.

Six months after Claire’s death, the answer literally dropped in my lap.

On a flight to a family wedding, there was a Time magazine in my seat pocket. I pulled it out, curious, and discovered an article about then-First Lady Laura Bush and the newly established Texas Book Festival. Tears filtered down my face as I read on, feeling as though I discovered the answer to our quest to honor Claire.

Whether divine intervention, or guidance from a little reading angel, when I read that the festival featured authors and illustrators native to Texas, the proverbial light bulb went on.

For each night we would read to our children, and as a freelance writer, I thought it was important that my little ones knew who wrote the words and drew the pictures. From this nightly exercise, I knew we had a wealth of talent in our back yard in Ohio.

I turned to Brad, sobbing by this point, handed him the magazine and said, “This is what we are going to do to honor Claire.”

Claire’s Day was born.

Just over a year later, the Maumee, Ohio branch library and grounds were filled with children and their families enjoying fun presentations by our guest authors and illustrators, creating fun literary hands-on creations, books and more books.

A highlight of the day is the C.A.R.E. Awards-Claire’s Awards for Reading Excellence. These awards are given to children selected as the most improved readers in their schools. Often the recipients have learning challenges and aren’t typically honored for academic achievements. Each nominee receives a personalized certificate and a coupon to select a book to keep for their very own, and have it personally signed by our guest authors and artists.

The C.A.R.E. Awards program was created out of memories from when Claire, who was reading at middle-grade level by the age of 7, noticed that her dad, Brad, was skipping or switching out words when he would read to her. Brad is dyslexic. Claire offered to read to him, to help him in his reading journey.

In 2002, the first year of the festival, we honored 25 children with a C.A.R.E. Award.

We just celebrated our 18th year of sharing Claire’s love of reading with the community. How cool is that?

Claire’s Day is no longer just a day anymore, but a month filled with 3 book festival sites, nearly 40 author/illustrator school visits with our partner schools, and tremendous increase in our C.A.R.E. Awards honorees and community outreach.

This past year we recognized 1300 young readers and impacted over 30,000 children and their families through our programs.

What began as a completely volunteer effort is now being overseen by our now-parent organization, Read for Literacy. Our incredible staff takes care of the myriad of details, so I can focus on my writing.

Yep, through friendships and connections made at Claire’s Day, I’m now a critically acclaimed nonfiction children’s book author. And, even more significantly, Brad and I have fulfilled not only our promise to honor Claire but enjoy incredible relationships as a family too.

Somewhere there is a little purple-loving, book-hugging, storytelling little angel flapping her wings, guiding us in our journey.

To learn more about Claire’s Day, visit www.clairesday.org

Julie K. Rubini is a children’s book author, founder of Claire’s Day, wife and mom.

Her published works include Eye to Eye: Sports Journalist Christine Brennan, Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller, (Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books, Outstanding Merit) Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist, and Hidden Ohio.

Julie and her family, including daughter, Kyle and son Ian have traveled extensively together, including all fifty states and several continents. To learn more, visit www.julierubini.com