Books for Babes..

My mother gave birth to six daughters in the span of ten years. Three toddlers and three slightly older, but not old enough to be left alone, kids circled her like a pack of hungry wolves. One might imagine that my most lucid memories involve my mother tossing us chunks of raw meat to assuage our wants and keep us quiet. Those memories do live on. But, the most vivid memories I have of my mother include a book somewhere in the scene. I see her reclined on the couch reading; propped up in bed reading; standing in the kitchen reading. Stacks of books teetered on her bedside table, on every shelf in the den, and at least one in the car.

I feasted on my mother’s books. In my early teens I devoured Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Dorothy Eden, and Phyllis Whitney. Later my taste would diverge, but at that time Gothic Romance tantalized as hormones surged. I could not get enough. Nor could my mother.

Captivated by the Merlin trilogy: Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Enchantment I secreted myself in the den, half hidden behind the door. And then it was Victoria Holt, and the Legend of the Seventh Virgin. Having attended Catholic school for several years by then I had to suspend my disbelief at the concept of nuns having the capacity to fall in love. But I could well imagine wanting to wall one of them up behind layers of brick.

When we were barely old enough my mother dropped us off at the library while she eked out a few minutes to herself. The old brick building lured us in with the promise of discovery. Opened in 1935, it existed solely due to the altruism of a Mr. Milton Martin, who believed reading to be the path to success. We got lost in the stacks, the nooks and crannies, awash in the fragrance of aging tomes, amid the hushed atmosphere of whispered conversations.

In high school I gravitated toward a boy who loved books. While I lost myself in Austen and Bronte’s England he soared to the alternate universes of science fiction.

Imagine your world without books. Go ahead and try, I’ll wait. Can’t do it can you? Neither can I. What if Goodnight Moon did not exist for you to lull your kids to sleep, or How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? What if that novel you can’t wait to pick up at the end of your day went missing, along with the characters in whose lives you’ve become immersed? What if you were denied access to your digital reader? What if even that ancient copy you’d saved, for some reason you fail to remember, of a Good Housekeeping Magazine from 1942 just vanished? You are bereft of reading material.

Such a scenario, a book famine, exists in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa seems like a lost continent, doesn’t it? The rich countries take what we want from it, oil from Nigeria, blood diamonds from wherever the one percent can get them. In our wake we leave corrupt governments that allow their citizens to starve, or kill each other in horrific civil wars. Somali pirates, genocide in Darfur, Sierra Leone and their drug-addled child soldiers, rape as control in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country so misnamed as to be laughable, if it weren’t that life for women is so brutal.

Map of Africa (note that this map is outdated ...
The forgotten continent..

Forty percent of children in Africa do not attend school. That’s an entire continent, not a single country! In classrooms fortunate enough to staff teachers 10-20 students share a single textbook. Our kids look at a textbook and see hours of tedium. They head to their locker and bury it beneath sweaty gym clothes. Kids in Africa cherish books. We crave what we cannot have.

Four star charity organizations like Books for Africa and Book Aid International do diligent work to provide books for children in more than a dozen African countries. Opportunity begins with education. Whether we contribute to four star charity organizations that help globally, or promote literacy in our own communities, or simply read to our kids before they fall asleep, it’s comforting to realize we can change a kid’s life one book at a time.

US Navy 090324-N-9552I-067 Local Djiboutian st...
Kids in Djibouti with newly donated books.

I’m reading John Jeremiah Sullivan’s, Pulphead, a book of essays. He is a master of the craft. What’s on your reading list?

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54 Responses to Books for Babes..

  1. Alma says:

    all looking so nice. thanks for this nice info.

  2. Albenise says:

    it helped me with knowledge so i really believe you will do much better in the future i appreciate everything you have added to my knowledge base. thanks.

  3. Cassilda says:

    i love to hear your common sense strategies – especially the ones i share

  4. Alícia says:

    very nice blog thanks for the good post.

  5. Clarinda says:

    i agree with you

  6. Siu says:

    Good know-how! I have been seeking for something like that for quite a while finally. Excellent!

  7. Juliana Zunk says:

    i agree with you.

  8. Pingback: Books that Saved (or, at least, changed) My Life | Random Reflectionz

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  10. Lisa says:

    I, too, have picked up Mom’s love for books. I cringe when I see children playing video games in place of reading a book. I like the way you turned this into thoughts of those less fortunate. May I suggest http://www.paperbackswap.com? It’s a great way to recycle books at a low cost. I love it!

  11. a world without books … I can’t imagine it. *Remember the Night Rainbow,* and “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” were all time bedtime favorites, and the list from there grows exponentially. Watching my kids devour books makes me ecstatic and I (mostly) don’t begrudge them the money I spend at a bookstore (we happen to live now in a country with NO lending library… argh) … and your shift to Africa and the need kids there have for books makes me weep – I’ve done a few book drives with our college students, especially around the end of term, and they’ve been really successful. Thank you for bringing this need to wider attention.
    deborah l quinn recently posted..Comment on Eight Months: Daily Life by AbbyMy Profile

  12. Kristin says:

    I adore your transition from your home to Africa. Great job, and much needed attention! Thanks for the reminded about Pulphead. My husband has been trying to get me to read it for a while.
    Kristin recently posted..Glad I Saw It: Big Metal BirdsMy Profile

  13. Stacey says:

    Wow. Very powerful post. You are right – I can’t imagine life without books. Hmmm…need to do some thinking here. Thanks for putting this out there.
    Stacey recently posted..Letter to My SonMy Profile

  14. Jackie says:

    Not only is this a great piece demonstrating the impact of your mom on your love of books, but taking the turn towards charity was perfection! I attended Graduate School at Rutgers and the head of my dept. does an exchange with a school in Africa every summer. They have a partnership with a wine company’s distribution site. The large crates that come over to the States filled with Wine, need to be returned to Africa, and instead of staying empty, they fill them with school supplies. Your book references made me think of this.
    Jackie recently posted..GoneMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi Jackie. What a great exchange program. Each small step like crates filled with school supplies gives kids hope of opportunity. That’s great to hear. Thanks for reading.

  15. Wow, this essay took a turn I was note expecting. i thought this was going to be a lovely little meme about a family’s love of books, but I like where you took the piece. Now you have me thinking. I love the image of your mother with books everywhere. Erin
    Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms recently posted..Step Away From The Confetti CannonMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi Erin. Thanks for the nice comment. I appreciate it. The image of my mother with books set me on a course for a lifelong devotion. Thanks for reading.

  16. anna says:

    I hate to think of kids – or anyone – without access to books. A friend was telling me how where she is from (Guyana) there aren’t even really libraries, so she always tries to send books home when she can.

    I am a big fan of the writer Anita Brookner, I would read her books all day long if somehow that could be my vocation. Ah, to dream…
    anna recently posted..Mother Earth to Oriental Trading: Don’t Try to Friend Me On FacebookMy Profile

  17. Susan says:

    the smell of the library will always be one of my favorites… the mustiness and the endless, endless possibilities. i can’t imagine a life without books!
    Susan recently posted..Today in the Mommyhood, Day 534 (Part: Shots, Anyone?)My Profile

  18. I loved reading when I was young, can’t imagine life without reading!!

  19. I cannot imagine a world without books or words. Reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures. Thank you for speaking out on such an important issue.
    Michelle Longo recently posted..Two Years.My Profile

  20. A couple things stand out to me in this post. First, your mother had 6 children in ten years???? YIKES!!! Also, I love the idea of supplying books to those in need. Books are like water; they are essential to life (or at least I think so). I am reading The Paris Wife and liking it.
    Laura@Catharsis recently posted..The Mothers of Boys Club (A Featured Post for Studio 30+)My Profile

  21. You speak straight to my librarian heart. And my human one. Let’s change the world…one page at a time…shall we?
    Kimberly at Rubber Chicken Madness recently posted..Just Be Enough: FaithMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Ah, a librarian. If I had only chosen that career path… Heaven to be surrounded by books all day long. Thanks, Kimberly for reading and commenting.

  22. Oh yay! What would we do without books, indeed! What would I do if I couldn’t write them? I can’t imagine. Thank you for highlighting the charities too. I love discovering good people doing good things. I’m about to start reading Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich.
    Angela Shelton recently posted..Coveting Chickens and CoopsMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi Angela. It’s nice to have an author of actual books comment on books! I enjoyed reading the excerpt of your children’s book. I look forward to more of that, or the entire book, why stop at excerpts. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  23. Books really are awesome! But like many other things, I did not really appreciate books or reading until I became older.

    Thank you for directing me to these charity organizations. And you are totally right when you say that we crave what we can’t have.
    Youngman Brown recently posted..Supposibly, I Hate YouMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hello Mr. Brown. Thanks for your comment. We always want what we can’t have. The trick is to crave the good stuff, not the bad stuff. When I figure out to do that I’ll let you know. I’m glad you found your way to books. It’s never too late.

  24. Jamie says:

    First, I loved the image you have or your mother…. then I became worried with the certain fear that my children will see a laptop and iphone instead of a book. Damn.

    Second, I am SO glad you shared these organizations. Books are a BIG part of our families lives and we have SO many of them. I plan to look into how we can help.
    Jamie recently posted..dear sixtyMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi Jamie. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Even if your kids end up reading via laptop or iPhone I think that counts. Reading a book in any form is a good thing. Technology is ever changing, who knows what form it will next take.

  25. Miranda says:

    If you had asked me to imagine my life without books about 12 years ago, I probably could have done it. I hated reading. I looked at it mostly as a required task in order to make a grade in school. Then one book changed it all. ‘A Walk to Remember’ was going to be a movie and a friend had the book and encouraged me to read it first. I was hooked. I love to read now and probably can’t imagine my life without books (as I have yet to succumb to the e-readers).
    Miranda recently posted..The Race that Defied the Laws of NatureMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi Miranda. Good story. Funny, isn’t it, how one book can change your life. I’ve always loved to read so its difficult to imagine any other way of being. I’m very glad you discovered the joy of books. I haven’t yet succumbed to the e-readers either. Though I suppose it’s inevitable. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  26. Abby says:

    I’m an avid reader myself. I’m re-reading Wicked right now (in preparation for seeing the musical for the first time next week.) I’m also reading Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore. I can’t imagine life without books!
    Abby recently posted..Weekend Warriors (An Illustrated Abby Gabs)My Profile

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Abby for commenting. I’m not familiar with the Christopher Moore book you mentioned. I’ll have to look it up. Thanks for reading.

  27. Katie says:

    Beautiful tribute to books, Stephanie. I can’t imagine a world without books, and I’m so heartbroken to think of children growing up without the beauty and adventures that can be found inside a book.

    Wonderfully insightful and important post. You’ll be getting one of my votes this week.
    Katie recently posted..The Land of Missing PetsMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hey Katie, thanks for those nice words. I appreciate it! Books, nothing like losing yourself in a story, or finding yourself!

  28. Ado says:

    Hi Steph,
    Another great post here. I love books and I love people who love to help charities. I had no idea 40% of the *continent* of Africa had no schooling. Oh my God. BTW I think you are on FB – you can go search for Africa Zebras and Friend then – a little school in Africa I am trying to help here and there. Tell them I sent you – they are fun to FB chat with! And to help. (-:
    Ado recently posted..Can I Have A Marching Band, Please?My Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi Ado, thanks for reading and commenting. I will look up the African Zebras. I’m obsessed with Africa right now and I love all animals so will do.

  29. Christie says:

    Great post. Education really is the key. And books just open up so many doors. Thanks for including links to the organizations. I am definitely going to check them out.
    Christie recently posted..Simple prayer. Profound meditation.My Profile

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Christie. For sure, education is key… wish my own state of CA would acknowledge that by halting the budget cuts.

  30. Mayor Gia says:

    I LOVED reading as a kid. Poor kids in africa – those NPOs sound like they do great work!
    Mayor Gia recently posted..Things that Make Boyfriend Angry: a Dinner AdventureMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi Gia. Thanks for reading. Yes, a lot of good organizations out there. I’m glad someone has the wherewithal to take on such enormous projects.

  31. I grew up reading as soon as I could, and I still find myself drawn to books. You’re right, I absolutely cannot imagine life without books!
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  32. David Wiley says:

    I couldn’t imagine a world without books. I swear I might as well have been born with a book in my hand. They have been a part of my life as far back as I can remember (and even further back through my mom’s memories). I read all the time. I have read hundreds of books across a multitude of genres and time periods. I am an advocate for literacy and a supporter of local libraries and bookstores.

    Yet even in the United States the statistics are alarming. A study done a few years ago showed that about 60% of high school graduates will never read another book after they finish. 42% of college graduates will never read another book after they get their degree.

    With numbers like these, I love when books like Harry Potter and Twilight and The Hunger Games rise in popularity. People that don’t usually read end up picking these up. That is the best thing ever.

    I applaud your love of reading. I wish I could do more to change the availability of books in those other countries. But I can try to help raise the reading level in my community. And I will, one book at a time. One person at a time. By setting the example and talking about all the great books I’ve read and am reading.

    Right now I’m reading the Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Idylls of the King, and a collection of Oscar Wilde plays. And they are all great, like so many other books.
    David Wiley recently posted..The Curse of Fierabras – Part ThreeMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi David. I know the US has an alarming rate of undereducated youth. And helping in our own communities is the best way to combat that. I do the same thing. I’m involved in the adult literacy program with my county library system. Not Spanish speakers, but English speakers who for whatever reason did not learn to read, or read poorly. I centered the literacy issue of this post on Africa as I’ve become obsessed with that continent’s lack of just about everything. I’m glad, though, that readers have become fired up about literacy issues here in the US. Somehow its up to us, as voters, as writers, as citizens of the world to do what we can to change that. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment.

  33. Susan Walker says:

    I too remember mom reading all the time. Bill and I were just talking about that the other day when I was reading and he was trying to talk to me. I never remember mom without a book in her had. She was a great inspiration to me and I love to read. I have read every book Robert Ludlum wrote and now I have moved on the Mary Higgins Clark and Debbie Macomber. Love them all. Wonderful to read your posts, I look forward to each of them.

  34. Julia says:

    You are so right; books are so very powerful and important. I used to teach Kindergarten in an under-privileged area and it was very sad the amount of my students who were never read to at home either from lack of parent participation of because the parents could not read themselves. I could not imagine a world where reading was not a part of my daily life.
    Julia recently posted..A Whole New WorldMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi Julia. It’s all about the parent and the example, isn’t it? We’re lucky to have been surrounded by books. Thanks for reading.

  35. Pish Posh says:

    As a teacher I can tell you it’s not just Africa. The U.S. has an embarrassing and disturbingly low rate of literacy for a western 1st world globally dominant country. We’re like #37 – lower than a country like Georgia. And not only do we have a low literacy rate, I would venture to say we have a low comprehension and critical thinking rate. I’d be delighted if OUR culture appreciated reading, thinking, and education more!!

    My mom and I both call each other up and say “so whatchya doing?” “Reading.” Same conversation over and over!
    Pish Posh recently posted..O is for OnomatopoeiaMy Profile

    • Steph says:

      Hi Pish. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. And I agree completely, particularly about our lack of critical thinking. Here in my state, your home state, education budgets are slashed before anything else. It has taken its toll as I don’t need to tell you. Unfortunately we have the resources and the materials at hand but choose not to use them or make them available. I focused on Africa because they have less than nothing, and that means no opportunity. Many in the US have little opportunity as well, I know. Since we often squander what we have we ought to send it all to Africa.. Thanks for reading! I always say that but it has more oomph today..

  36. Pin says:

    I had Goodnight Moon memorized when my kids were little. I believe I have read every book ever written by Stephen King and Dean Kootz, my daughter has inherited her grandmother’s love of books and is always reading something, started when she was 4 years old. I remember that library like it was yesterday, it seemed like she left us there for hours, my favorite books were about Babar the elephant. I can’t get on an airplane or go on vacation without at least one book, and I listen to books in the car…what a wonderful invention, books on tape! which I get from the library, a place I will always love to go.

    • Steph says:

      Hi Pin. You are always the first to comment. I appreciate that. Great comment. We are formed by our examples and fortunately our mother was a good one!

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