On 5 Year Olds Who Don’t Know How to Open a Book… And the Small Way We Can Help This Holiday Season

I told you yesterday I’m drowning in dropped balls

Tonight I quit. 

With figurative and some literal balls just everywhere, I quit.

I told Greg I was over parenting, and I got in the bathtub and quit.

No booze.

No bubbles.

Just me and a book and hot water and the sound of children screaming in distance.

It was bliss.

You know… blissish, which is as close as we mamas can come some days. It was bliss-enough, though, and bliss-enough is good enough for me. More than.

I pulled my soggy self from the tub eventually, mind refreshed, flesh wrinkled, and all my little cherubs were already in bed, asleep. Except two of the teenaged cherubs who were still awake asking for money, but, like I said, blissish. Good enough.

I pulled myself from the tub thinking about privilege. 

About books and how much I love them. 

About books and the ways they’ve comforted me and set me free. 

About not wondering whether we had enough water for my bath. 

About being hungry because I didn’t eat enough dinner since I was in a rush to take a kid to counseling and about the privileges of having both a dinner to rush through and the money to pay for counseling when my kid needs help.

About the fact that my kids laid in bed tonight reading books, as is our routine before bedtime because we’re proactive, college educated parents who care about our kids’ reading habits… or because reading makes them quieter than average and WE JUST NEED THEM TO SHHHHHH AT BEDTIME, but whatever; let’s not talk about motivation, OK? K. OUR KIDS READ. WOOHOO!

I wrapped a tiny, frayed, threadbare towel around my dripping body because it was within reach, and I’d forgotten, as always, to get a clean, non-raggy, grown-up towel before sinking into the water. I looked at the toilet that needs cleaning and the sink with crusty kid toothpaste fossils and the pile of dirty clothes I won’t wash until the weekend, and I thought about how grateful I am for this messy life.

How grateful I am, even on the nights when I quit.

And I thought about my friend, Korie, who told me a story about her job as a children’s librarian here in our little Oregon town with its rolling hills and evergreens, llamas and good schools… our little Oregon town with its people who care… and also our little Oregon town which is home to children who don’t always have what my family has. Enough food. Hot water. Books.

Several years ago, Korie arrived early to a Kindergarten class for a visit. She does that from time to time to tell the kids about the public library and get them signed up for library cards. 

As she waited, the teacher was finishing up a lesson on How to Open a Book.

Let me just say again: the teacher was teaching school-aged kids how to open books. 

Korie watched, hardly believing a 5 year old would need such a lesson, until she saw one of the boys turn his book around and flip it upside down. He didn’t know how to get the book open. She knew the child sitting next to him — a child who was already reading chapter books. 

Korie wrote me tonight because I asked her to tell me the story again. Fresh from my bath, clad in my faded nightie, by the light of a thin string of colored lights above my desk, I read Korie’s email:
The disparity is appalling, she wrote. Children need books in their homes. Infants need to chew on books, play with them, figure out how they open. Toddlers need books all over the house and in the diaper bag. Children need positive interactions with books. They need to see how they work. They need to be read to. Studies have repeatedly shown that children with few or no books in their homes have significantly lower reading levels than their peers. Books in the home remind children and parents of the importance of reading. Because we shouldn’t have stories about five year olds who don’t know how to open a book.

We shouldn’t have 5 year olds who don’t know how to open a book. 

And Korie’s right.

In October, I told you about the A Girl With A Book campaign. It was my birthday in October, and Malala Yousafzi won the Nobel Peace Prize. 

AGirlWithABookGreg woke me up Friday morning with the news that 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Two years ago almost exactly, on October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala in the face, an assassination attempt due to her persistent and outspoken commitment to promote education for girls in the Swat Valley of Pakistan.

Today, Malala is a Nobel laureate – the youngest ever – and, more importantly, she continues to strive for all children and their right to equal access to education. 

“Extremists have shown what frightens them the most: a girl with a book.” ~Malala Yousafzai

Tomorrow’s my birthday. You’d think I already have everything I could want in life: 5 rad kids I want to keep almost all the time, a husband with emergency zombie apocalypse preparedness plans, a nose made out of my ear, and almost 2,000 likes on a Facebook picture of my ass. I mean, there’s not a lot more a woman of 41 can want, you know? But I’m going to ask you for something anyway, and it’s this:

Will you join me in giving $5, $10 or $15 toward A Girl With A Book? 100% of the funds we receive from this GoFundMe campaign will go to purchase books for Kindergarten through 2nd Grade boys and girls from Title 1 (high poverty rate) elementary schools. 

Books have always been some of my best friends, and I can’t think of anything I’d like more for my birthday than to put cherished words into the hands of kids who might otherwise not be able to keep them.

It’s a way to honor Malala’s work. And it’s a way to give back. I hope, if this space has brought you joy and mamaraderie over the years, you’ll join me with a small donation and by sharing the campaign with your friends. 

I meant, of course to wrap up the campaign by the beginning of November. But then kids and another job and LIFE happened, and, well, we’re past apologizing for our imperfections, right? 

So here we are, talking about A Girl With A Book again, which we’ll wrap up by December 7th, instead, which will be in time to give books to the girls (and boys!) before they leave school on Winter Break. 

Will you join me this holiday season in giving a small amount – $5, $10 or $15 – to put a book in the hands of a kid who needs one?

You can read all the details at A Girl With A Book here: http://www.gofundme.com/agirlandabook

And thanks.

You’re the best people on the internets, and I love you to infinity.


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15 responses to “On 5 Year Olds Who Don’t Know How to Open a Book… And the Small Way We Can Help This Holiday Season”

  1. In Appalachian states, Dolly Parton has a charity that mails books to your home for free every month until the child turns 5, all in hopes of every child having the opportunity to live among books. I often wonder though if every parent signs up or even knows about the program. I sure hope so!

  2. I’m so glad you posted this again Beth — I’d “meant to” do something when you first wrote about it in October but somehow (somehow?) didn’t get around to it. I was only able to do a small gift at this time, but I did also put it out on FB, and I figure every little bit helps. Books have played such an integral part of my life from earliest childhood until today, in my “grandmother-hood” (and I’ve now expanded that by actually writing them as well as reading them!) that I, too, am sometimes staggered to realize that some kids are not so lucky. A great “birthday present” to yourself!! (And, by the way, I don’t comment often, or maybe ever, but I really *love* your blog!)

  3. Our church sponsors a gift drive for kids at an inner city school near us, and one of the kids I got is a 5 year old girl who listed books as her first choice for a gift, and a warm coat as her next choice. We are only supposed to choose one gift from the list, and it’s killing me. Books or a coat? I work in a school library, so I’d love to give her books, but it’s awfully cold and snowy around here. I love that she put books as her first choice! They’re only supposed to get one gift, since they open them at school and it wouldn’t be fair if some kids get more things than others.

    • You could put a small book in the pocket of the coat! Maybe she won’t find it until she goes home later that night!

    • Is there any way you could get a book for each kid in the class? That way you could cheat a little and everyone would benefit!

    • Can you afford to buy the same book for every child in her class and then they will all get a second gift – perhaps it can be from the teacher or santa or the book fairy?

  4. Another great way to get books into the hands of kids who need them is through Book Trust – a nonprofit that gives funding to low-income classrooms so that children can order their own books from the scholastic catalogs. Participating classrooms make it a project – tallying the orders, adding up the totals, etc. Its an amazing program: http://www.booktrust.org/

    My latest Scholastic book flyer even had an option where I could “order” a donation to the program like I would order a book:)

    Thanks for doing this! Kids (and adults) need books!!

    • OH! And another resource! PJ Library is a nonprofit that MAILS FREE BOOKS TO YOUR HOUSE – you can keep them. Its specifically focused on increasing availability of books about Jewish themes and holidays, but HEY FREE BOOKS. We subscribe (our son went to a Jewish preschool), and even though we’re not Jewish, having grown up in the NY City area, we appreciate Jewish traditions and values, and really enjoy many of the books

      I’m not sure if its a CA-only thing, but folks can sign up here: http://pjlibrary.org/parents-and-families/enrollment.aspx

  5. AND, if you have more time than money, check to see if your local Title 1 school has a S.M.A.R.T. (Start Making A Reader Today) program. Adults are matched one-on-one with students for once-a-week reading aloud. With younger students, you read to them. Older students read to/with you. Every month, students are allowed to choose and take home a book — to keep!

    I volunteered a couple of years ago, and enjoyed reading with a spunky kindergartener. I was blessed to see and hear adults interacting with children in such a positive way — many of them retired folks who volunteered hours a week to read and build relationships with children in their community.

  6. My daughter attends preschool at a Title 1 elementary and I’ve always found it fascinating that they lend the preschoolers a book every week despite the fact that the public library is only about 1/2 mile away. But for a lot of the kids this is the only book they see each week.

    • Sometimes the public library has hours that don’t work for parents, or just isn’t welcoming. The one in my hometown has possibly the meanest librarians I’ve ever met – I shudder even thinking about going there. I’m blessed to be able to buy books for my kids, but for those who can’t, its nice to have additional programs:)

    • If as a stay-at-home affluent mom, I struggle to always make my weekly trip to the library, I can only imagine how far down the list that might be for many families.
      In my city the main library downtown is closing for 2 yrs for rennovations – what a shame to remove access to so many people, many who are poor or even homeless for fancier digs!

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