Sunday, March 2, 2008

Read Across America!

In celebration of Read Across America, one of my local elementary schools held a Reading Day. For the second time since they launched this program, the school librarian asked me to read to a class. I was thrilled and immediately told her I would.

A couple of years ago, I read Hooway for Wodney Wat, one of my favorite books at the time. (It still is, but lately I've fallen in love with Olivia. Can you blame me?) The kids loved it and we talked about reading, bullies, rats and more.

This year, I let the librarian choose the book for me -- and I am glad I did. This year's book was new to me: Henry's Freedom Box. It is a true story about Henry "Box" Brown, who mailed himself to freedom after his wife and children were sold by his wife's owner. It was a fabulous book with great illustrations.

Lately, I have felt very personally the ravages of slavery. When I read about people being "owned" or "sold," I flinch. The horrific implications of slavery became very real to me when I realized the terrible limitations Phillis Wheatley experienced. This incredible poet and very intelligent woman was owned by other human beings. She was taught to read and write almost as an experiment. Otherwise, this woman would have been invisible. Slaves had no identity. They were property. The idea makes me reel in shock every time the reality of it settles into my mind.

And so I read this book to a roomful of fourth graders. At one point, as Henry watched his wife and children disappear down the road, I wanted to cry. I looked into the cluster of children at my feet and was thrilled that none of us experienced that horror and hoped none would feel that kind of pain.

The story was poignant, the illustrations beautiful and the book a wonderful read. We talked about the Underground Railroad, which they were studying, and Harriet Tubman. I enjoyed myself and I hope the children did, too.

I knew the all loved to read because I asked. Every child's hand shot up when I asked who loved to read. Their hands shot up in the air again when I asked who was reading a book that day. They loved the library (both school and private) and planned to visit soon.

Just the night before, my 3-year-old godson Conor and I read a couple of books together. He's learning words and letters, and I'm looking forward to that "light bulb moment" when he realizes the letters spell words on the page. I remember when I experienced that moment. It was a beautiful thing and everyone deserves it.

So celebrate reading and Dr. Seuss, and Read Across America, people!

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