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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reading is a Gift

This week I had the opportunity to help a school in Washington DC purchase books for their library. You can help, too. Ballou Senior High School was chosen as this year's Guys Lit Wire Book Fair recipient. The neat part about this project is you can go directly to a wish list the students created so you know exactly what they want. At the end of this blog, I'll post the link.

I felt drawn to this particular cause not only because I'm a writer, but because books have played an important role in my life since early childhood. I’ve loved books, the smell of books, and the hush of the library for as long as I can remember. In junior high, I worked in the school library. Shelving books was no fun, but having first shot at new arrivals and reading when there was no work to be done was great.

A well stocked library throughout my school years provided me with more than a way to pass the time. Books facilitated an escape from the awkward days of adolescence. They revealed possibilities I didn't know existed in life. Some stories made me feel I wasn’t alone in my thoughts or struggles. And sometimes they helped me to realize my life wasn’t so bad after all when compared to the troubles the protagonist faced. I can’t imagine attending a school that is unable to afford books the students want or need.

5 Reasons I Love Books

1. Travel on a budget
- You can go anywhere in the world, usually for under $10, or even for free. My favorite place to visit is China, and maybe some day I'll have the chance to visit for real. In the meantime, I can indulge in Amy Tan's novels for a China fix. Even more incredible than world travel is the ability to visit different time periods. But wait, why stop with time travel when you can explore outer space and worlds that exist in our imaginations? Has anyone been to Hogwarts lately?

2. Connecting with others - As a teen, my best friend and I traded Sweet Valley High books and talked about writing our own series. (Okay. That was probably more me.) One of my former patients, who happened to be in her 80s, turned me on to Confessions of a Shopaholic, and I in turn passed it on to my sister-in-law, mother and mother-in-law. There is a bond forged through a common love for a story. I enjoy listening to others discuss books they have read and what they liked or disliked about the stories. Perfect strangers can engage in a lively discussion just from the mention of a particular book.

3. Imagining the possibilities – Creativity greases the wheels of our minds. You don’t have to write, paint, compose or any of those artsy things. Simply enjoying a book can help you view events differently and thereby create room for flexibility in your thinking. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say flexibility is one of the most useful qualities you can have. Nurture it. When you are flexible, you can see solutions to problems that weren’t visible before.

4. Universality of the human condition – We all feel alone at some points in life. How refreshing to learn others have been through, or are currently going through, similar situations. Sometimes that’s all we need to give us hope.

5. Improving the quality of communication - Reading increases your vocabulary without having to study. Most words can be understood by the context, and repeatedly encountering certain words builds familiarity. This will only improve your written communications whether your writing is mostly business related or emails. In turn, you verbal communications should improve as well, excluding the moment when you get The Call. Then you turn into a babbling idiot who couldn’t possibly have written a 90,000 word novel since you can’t string two words together that make any sense.

What do you love about books, and what is one of your favorite titles from your teen years?

If you would like to help the students of Ballou Sr High, please visit: http://bit.ly/GLWBookFair

Ship books to –
Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
Ballou Senior High School
3401 Fourth Street SE
Washington DC 20032
(202) 645-3400


  1. BTW, the picture above is not a photo of the Ballou library. ;)

    At one point, they only had 1,150 books for 1,200 students.

    One of my favorite books as a teen was "My Darling My Hamburger".

  2. My sisters and I are constantly turning each other on to new authors, ever since we were girls. We were into the Sweet Valley High books too. :) (Did you know there is a new Sweet Valley book out where they're adults now???)

  3. Catherine,

    The Sweet Valley twins all grown up? No, I didn't know! How fun.

  4. I think I read that hamburger book :) This is a great cause and I wish them much success. My daughter's school library has an annual budget of $0 too. I guess it's a universal problem.

  5. I can't imagine not having books available. Especially a variety. There are five readers, well there were five readers until one got married, in my house and each one of us read different genres. Thank goodness there is a world of books out there to speak to everyone's tastes. I can't imagine a child not being given the same opportunity. This has been a weakness for me over the years, too. Whenever I hear or a school or library, I see what I can do. Probably quicker than clothing or food, though the later are certainly more important. I haven't clicked on the link yet, but I will.

  6. Clarissa,

    I think it is a universal problem for our schools. State budgets are tight.

    One thing our PTSO does is "The Birthday Club". At the beginning of the school year, parents can pay for their child to join the birthday club. When the birthday rolls around, the child selects a book for the school to purchase to keep in the library. The book is presented to the child in the classroom and he or she gets to check it out first. The librarian also put a tag in the front cover to say which child made the donation and for which birthday year. It works well for a community that has the means, but unfortunately too many communities don't.

  7. Amy,

    No denying the importance of having basic needs met, but other needs matter as well. Knowledge is a gift for life. :)

  8. Samantha,

    OMG! Sweet Valley High! I just had a conversation about these books with a friend yesterday, and we could both name all the characters! Talk about taking me back to my younger years! My son asked me about the Hardy Boy books yesterday, and I was so excited that he was interested in them. What do I love the most about books? That's easy. I love the possibilities books offer you. The chance to cry, laugh, become angry, feel passion, travel, imagine, grieve, you name it, and the chance is found between the pages of a good book. Books opened up the world to me, and made me want to go out there and experience everything I read about. Thanks for a wonderful blog.

  9. Loved the Sweet Valley High books myself! Omg great memories those. Great blog. And Julie, the Hardy Boy's books were some of my favs as well. Oh wow, I'm going to go dig some old books out. Maybe I'll find my old Nancy Drew mystery books.

  10. Julie & Melissa,

    I never read The Hardy Boys, but I watched the show every once in a while. My neighbor gave me books that were supposedly similar to Nancy Drew. I know her first name was Donna and she went to California in one story, but I can't remember her last name. :(