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Raising Readers

I try not to preach. I mean, who among us is really all that qualified to do so? And also, no one wants to listen to someone else claim passionately that they have discovered the key that unlocks the universe. Promises like that always end up being malarkey anyway.
But we all hear ourselves talk, and I confess, I am not immune to launching into a self-righteous spiel. Indeed, there is one topic in particular that can cause me to climb up onto a soapbox on top of a high horse, megaphone in hand, and get shouty. Can you guess? Do you know me at all?
Books! Reading! And specifically, reading to kids.
Here's a little backstory: when my niece Ava was born, I wanted to get her some books for her library. But I was twenty-five at the time and hadn't read picture books for almost two decades, so I was entirely unfamiliar with what was out there. So I went one evening to the Barnes and Noble in Coralville, Iowa, and I sat down to pick a couple of titles out. TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER, I walked out with a few magical books and a realization. There are so many extraordinary books out there... BUT! There are just as many books that are mediocre at best. And you know what? Parents aren't going to be motivated to read mediocre books to their kids. And even if parents dutifully read mediocre books, those books aren't going to do much for the kid anyway. So the trick is getting extraordinary books into the hands of parents and onto the shelves of home libraries so that the kids can experience the beautiful potential of good books firsthand and frequently.
Ever since that experience, I have taken it as a personal mandate to gift books to my nieces and nephews and all the kids in my life because what could be more lasting, both as a physical object and an emotional experience? My nephew Leo doesn't see it that way, as he has not hesitated to share with me ("Aunt Laura, why do you only ever give us books? THAT'S ALL YOU GIVE."). 

Point being, I believe in books. I believe in their power to inform. To spark curiosity. To fuel and encourage the already big imaginations of little minds. To generate empathy and a sensitivity toward others' experiences. A solid library can raise good people better than any of us can on our own, I truly believe. Fill your home with books! Read to your kids every night! Get them a library card as soon as possible so that they can take ownership over their reading choices! And let your kids see you reading!

I told you I get shouty.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Take this article by Joe Pinsker, published just this week in The Atlantic: "Why Do Some People Love Reading?". Or this piece in the Wall Street Journal by Megan Cox Gurdon from earlier this year: "The Secret Power of the Children's Picture Book." Or this article from the New York Times last year: "Reading Aloud to Young Children Has Benefits for Behavior and Attention." There are countless such articles detailing the same conclusions: reading to your children, surrounding your children with books, reading your own books in front of your children -- it all adds up to higher performance in school, yes, but more importantly to life-long habits that allow us to maintain the creativity, curiosity, and imagination that we were all born with and the ability to teach ourselves anything we want to know at any time. And a life with those capacities is a richer, fuller, BETTER LIFE. It just is. 
Here's what I'm trying to say: if there's any key out there that unlocks the universe, this is it, folks. Tell everyone you heard it here.