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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Weighing In: It's about Time
I have a distinct childhood memory of a treasure chest in the lobby of a doctor’s office. The small items inside were similar to those found in a Cracker Jack or cereal box, but most children left the doctor’s office feeling as if they had received a great award when they took home something from that special box. Now many pediatricians are participating in Reach Out and Read (reachoutandread.org), a national early literacy initiative in which children from birth to age five receive a book each time they come in for a wellness check. Librarians and teachers have long known that books make the best prizes, but it has taken a while for the medical community to embrace this idea. My wish is that there might be some way to continue giving books to patients through their teen years.
There are complications in selecting books for older readers because they have very specific tastes. Adults who aren’t trained in children’s and young adult literature may find the selection process daunting. But patients of all ages and their families need to understand the power of story. It’s about time that the educational and medical communities work together to send the message that books and reading are important for healthy development.
Perhaps a class could adopt a doctor and donate favorite paperbacks for a book giveaway. Students might even place letters inside the covers that tell another reader what they liked about the book. Suggest that doctors become involved in celebrating Children’s Book Week and National Library Week. Ask them to allow patients to display posters of their favorite books in the lobbies of their offices. Encourage civic groups to purchase Newbery and Caldecott bookmarks and donate them to medical clinics. Offer bibliographies of books that deal with social issues affecting school-age children. Topics such as bullying, eating disorders, drug and alcohol use, and learning differences should be of interest to doctors treating children and teens. At the very least, ask doctors to offer applications for a public library card. This single gesture may end up being the best prize that they can grant their young patients.
Those who want to effect change know that pointing to real scenarios is often the key to selling an idea. Librarians and teachers have plenty of stories about the power of books in students’ lives, and they should not hesitate to share them with the medical community. Think of it as a well-lit billboard advertising a product.
I like to tell one story about when I was a middle-school librarian. I went to school early and read aloud to anyone who wanted to come to the library and listen. Morning reading became a status symbol for some students, and outside of physical education, art, and music, it was the only time in the school day when students of all ability levels were involved in a common activity.
Recently, I received a private Facebook message from a former student. He told me that he would never forget the novels we read in morning reading, and he thanked me for helping him become a lifelong reader. This young man was special in many ways, but he didn’t know it at the time. The reason he didn’t understand his gifts is because he had been in a self-contained special-education class since first grade. He never said a word. Sometimes he would get an extra copy of the book that I was reading and would follow along. Among the books that we read that first year were The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi; The Giver, by Lois Lowry; Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene; The Contender, by Robert Lipsyte; The Keeper, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; and Stepping on the Cracks, by Mary Downing Hahn. I also read nonfiction, including The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane, by Russell Freedman. When this young man was in seventh grade, his teacher asked if he could help me in the library. I put him behind the desk so that he would have to interact with others. One day, I watched as he recommended a book to another student. It was a magical moment; he had found his voice through books. In eighth grade, he was placed in a regular classroom, and he only went to a resource teacher for a couple of hours. He is now a senior mechanic at a car dealership and is married to a teacher. His story is my treasure.
Any doctor who hears of this young man’s success story must surely understand how books make a difference in the lives of children and teens. We need to take the time to relate stories that deliver this message. This is a prize that will never be lost or broken; it is one that lasts forever.
After more than 35 years as a school librarian,
is a freelance writer and children’s literature advocate.
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