I am not sure how the subject came up. It was probably during one of those awkward periods of silence that crop up while dating where one tries to stimulate the conversation to keep from feeling self-conscious. It was an innocuous question, but the answer generated total surprise and left me unprepared to make an intelligent response. I think I said something like, “Kiddy Lit?” How could that be someone’s favorite college class? She assured me, children’s literature was her favorite class. I really liked her, but I couldn’t help thinking there is no way this relationship is going anywhere.
Well, I was wrong. The relationship grew and it has endured and I have learned over the last 40 years how influential the area of study could be. I would listen to her reading out loud to our daughter with the expression and enthusiasm only someone in love with the material could generate. I would wait for the child’s joyful reaction that never failed to follow. It had a powerful impact. The little girl developed a passion for reading, literature and the English language. Her aptitude in science and math may have led her to a more lucrative career, but the passion directed her to teaching high school English. Today she is trying to instill a similar love and understanding in other young people.
In the newspaper industry we have a vested interest in reading and believe newspapers can help foster reading with young people. My wife incorporated newspapers from where I worked into the curriculum of her elementary school classes when she taught in the public school system. Later, when she tutored high school students at a residential group home, she found them to also be of benefit.
Newspapers, particularly local community newspapers, provide non-threatening tools to engage young people with reading. Students know the kids on the sports pages and some of the people on page one. Grocery stores and other advertising provide everyday practical arithmetic lessons. There are many other applications for newspapers that can be an educational supplement to the standard curriculum. The predicament for community newspapers has always been how to generate the resources to promote and fund newspapers in education projects. The strategy seemed to be to let the large metro newspapers carry the load.
The modest N.I.E. program at the Bulletin received a huge boost last month with the surprising popularity of the Pet Idol Contest. When Juliet Lemond, the Bulletin’s advertising manager, presented the idea of a pet calendar, I went along mostly because the major recipients, the Humane Society and N.I.E., were projects I supported. I really did not anticipate the level of interest it would have with readers. We feel gratified with the financial contribution the Bulletin was able to make to both programs as a result of the contest. The injection of unanticipated resources will provide an opportunity to expand the number of schools and classrooms that will receive newspapers for their students to use.
I have used this space the last couple of years in December to advocate giving the gift of reading for Christmas. I have not been so blatant as to suggest a gift subscription to the Bulletin, although we do offer them. Generally, I have shared books from my reading list over the preceding year. I will admit that most of the material originates from my two girls. There were several additional offerings from authors I have acknowledged in previous years. Charles Frazier followed up “Cold Mountain” with another novel set in the mountains of the southeast, “Thirteen Moons.” And “A Thousand Splendid Suns” was a second novel by Khaled Hosseini, this time about the women in Afghanistan. I enjoyed them both, but I thought Hosseini’s effort came closer to matching his effort in his first book, “The Kite Runner.” This year brought two more offerings by Rick Riordan, “Mission Road” and “Rebel Island,” both an entertaining read, especially for readers who enjoy the mystery genre.
Another book from 2007 is somewhat hard to categorize, it is more inspirational than self-help and is really a series of short stories written from interviews. It is Denzel Washington’s “A Hand to Guide Me.” The interviews were conducted with 74 different people ranging from sports celebrities to presidents. Each one is a revelation about how important any one of us can be to the youth around us. You never know when the help of a mentor will come, how it will provide the nudge or from where it will derive. Who knows? I have learned it may come from as unlikely a source as “Kiddy Literature” through writers like A. A. Milne and Beatrix Potter.
Robert Brincefield is publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.