Because Someone Read to You

By Pam Leo, Family Literacy Activist

“You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me.”

        - Strickland Gillilan

If you can read this article then someone read to you. I actually did not have a mother who read to me, because we had no books. What I did have was a mom who taught me over 30 nursery rhymes, all of which I can recite to this day. Author, Mem Fox, in her book,  Reading Magic, wrote, “Rhymers will be readers.” Therefore, I must credit having learned all those oral nursery rhymes as the explanation for the fact that, even without any books in my home, I learned to read easily and well in first grade.

I did; however, have a “teacher” who read to me! My third-grade teacher read a chapter to us every day after lunch. I was mesmerized!  I couldn’t wait for that next chapter each day. Even though I could read on my own by then, being read to was a completely new and magical experience. What is your earliest memory of being read to?

Next to reading to myself and giving books away, the book thing I love the most is reading aloud to any age person. Truth be known, I really didn’t like my third-grade teacher, but I will forever love her because her reading aloud to us made me fall in love with books. I could already read by then, so she didn’t give me the gift of literacy. The gift she gave me was the enduring love of books that is the very foundation of the Book Fairy Pantry Project. Thank you, teachers. You will likely never know how far your ripples reach.

Last year, in this Holiday and Family Health and Wellness issue, I wrote about “The Connection  Magic of Reading Aloud” and of my dream to honor my mom’s memory by creating a reading aloud to seniors project to bring some connection magic to the often lonely lives of seniors in care facilities. I’m excited to report that we have recently begun to offer care facilities our Book Fairy “Book Angel Readers for Seniors” gift bag of books.  This will provide care facilities with resources to encourage and support their volunteers in reading to residents.

It is my experience that people either love reading aloud or they hate it. The latter need not apply. Having no reading at all is more endurable than being read to by someone who is not having a good time. If you do love reading aloud you have a gift to give that can significantly improve the happiness and well-being of a fellow human. Whether it be with a loved one or with a total stranger, reading aloud breaks isolation and builds connection. 

The list of health benefits to seniors, of being read to is long and well documented. We don’t have to be a doctor to create better conditions for wellness for our elders. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to increase the quality of care for our community’s elders.  Reading aloud for even one hour a week as a Book Angel Reader for Seniors benefits the reader as well as the senior. There’s even a volunteer job for the hate to readers. Perhaps you know someone who would love to volunteer to be a Book Angel Reader, but who no longer drives. You could be the needed transportation for a Book  Angel Reader.

 As we think about the holidays approaching, we may think it’s too busy of a time to take on one more commitment, but if we reframe it as a time that we get to just rest and read, it becomes an oasis instead of an obligation. Every person, of any age, who can read, has a gift to give. It’s been a long, lonely pandemic for everyone but especially for our elders. This holiday season, let’s fill their empty love cups back up with the gift of our presence.

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new poem, Please Read To Me. Her enduring love of children's books, her passion for literacy, and her commitment to empowering parents, are combined in her new role as the founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project, whose mission is "No Child With No Books," because "Books change children's lives... For good."