Fifteen years ago, Dr. Seuss’s birthday (March 2) was chosen by the National Education Association to celebrate NEA’s Read Across America Day, which kicks off the year-long Read Across American program. According to their website, the progam “focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and reading resources… Across the country, thousands of schools, libraries, and community centers participate by bringing together kids, teens, and books, and you can too!”
In honor of this wonderful program, I thought I’d write about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart—libraries. Aside from my parents’ influence, my local library was the most vital key in developing me into the life-long reader I am today.
When I was a child, our home was always filled with great books. My parents are both classicists and teachers, so the study of history and language was an integral part of our upbringing. But my parents were no intellectual snobs. They read Dr. Seuss along with the Greek myths, Winnie the Pooh along with the Bible. As we grew older, they shared with us their own beloved favorite books: Little Women and Nancy Drew for my mom, Sherlock Holmes and James Herriot for my dad.
And while my mother was the one who usually read us our bedtime stories, my dad was the one who took us to the library. Some of my fondest childhood memories take place at the Fox Chase Library, where my dad would leave us to our own devices for an hour or more while he went to look for his own books. I loved to explore the stacks, reading the blurbs on the back jackets, eyeing the fascinating covers, and adding to my stack until it was so high I couldn’t see past it. It was there at my local library that I discovered “Choose Your Own Adventure” books and Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume and Lois Duncan, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury, Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. To this day, whenever I dream about a library (and I really do dream about libraries), I conjure up the library of my childhood.
Even now, one of my favorite things to do is go to my local library and create a stack of at least six or seven books, then take them home and spread them all around me. My reward is to allow myself an hour in which to read the first chapter of each book, putting them in the order in which I want to tackle them. When I tell my students about this odd ritual, they think I’m a huge nerd, and of course, I am. But I don’t care—my love affair with books has been one of the most enduring and enriching of my life.
When I hear about budgets being slashed and libraries being closed all over the country, I am disheartened to think that some day, children might not have the opportunity I did to discover their passions and personalities in the pages of a library book. For now, I will continue to support and frequent my local library and hope that people never start believing libraries are frivolous nonessentials. I’d hate to live in a world that had forgotten that the best things in life—love, friendship, nature, and yes, reading—are truly free.
–Eve Marie Mont