Reading is a wonderful experience. The younger you are when you first discover a book makes a profound difference on the trajectory of your life. Many of us can remember our first book and the delightful world that it opened to us. I will never forget the joy I experienced in finishing Curious George all by myself. Somehow that little monkey in the big yellow book seemed so real to me. Maybe it was because I could relate so well to his impetuous behavior. I somehow failed to see how exasperating his behavior could be to the man in the yellow hat until I had two little monkeys of my own many years later.
Unfortunately, many kids never experience this joy and some even graduate from high school without being able to read a book from cover to cover. This week, I heard about a wonderful organization called First Book that was just celebrating their one hundred millionth book giveaway. Their motto is “New Books for Children in Need.” For twenty years, they have been working with publishers to get books in the hands of children who come from impoverished homes and communities where reading is not always the first priority. It was powerful to see a whole group of kids get their first real book, have it read to them and see their eyes light up as the realized they got to keep the book.
A few years ago, I heard something about the realities of the book famine that exists in the homes of many kids whose parents struggle to put food on the table. A woman who was a social worker in Philadelphia came to see me with a heart breaking story. She had been assigned to visit needy children in their homes and was seeking to make a difference by reading to them, even if it was only for a short time. Unfortunately, in home after home, she discovered no books at all that were suitable to read to children. In several homes, they had no reading material at all – not a book, a newspaper or even a magazine.
This tragedy is even worse in many countries around the world where kids face life threatening circumstances every day and cannot even imagine what it might be like to be able to read. For some, like those growing up in war torn Sierra Leone, they attend schools that did not even have libraries or books for the classes being taught. What a blessing it was for CLC to be able to work with people and publishers in England to gather books to provide basic libraries for dozens of these schools. The images of these young boys and girls seeing and touching these books for the first time is one of the most profoundly impacting things I have ever experienced.
This Christmas I hope to do a little something about this problem. I am determined to discover some kids in my life who have not gotten their first book and make sure that I help them experience the magic of reading. More importantly, I am going to encourage all my friends and family to make the decision to give books to families in need. The gift of reading can change the path of a little child’s life, reading a Christian book can change their eternal destiny.