Monday, July 25, 2011

Mom's Bookshelf - The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

As a parent, I stand pretty firmly on the notion that one of the greatest gifts I can give Sprout is a love of reading. Lots of reasons for that -- books open your mind to new worlds, give you possibilities you would never otherwise have dreamed of, allow endless opportunities for exploration, hone and refine literacy skills that will serve you in great stead, and provide huge amounts of enjoyment on a daily basis. What could be better? And I'm well aware that the best way to spark that love is through example, by filling our house with books and reading as much as we can, both individually and as a family.

I'd like to say that we've read to Sprout every day since he's been a part of our home. The percentage of days we have read to him certainly outweighs those we haven't. But I can't guarantee that we haven't missed a night here or there -- life goes awry sometimes, even with the best laid plans.

So that's why the story of Alice Ozma and her father Jim is particularly awe-inspiring to me. When Alice Ozma was nine years old, she and her elementary school librarian dad made a pact to read together for 100 nights in a row. Big commitment, but they made it. And then that 100 become 1000, and the 1000 turned into "The Streak", 3218 consecutive nights that Jim read aloud to Alice. From fourth grade until the night before she started college.

Impressed? Me too.

Alice Ozma writes about The Streak in her new book The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared. But the title is a bit misleading. Yes, Alice talks a bit about some of the books they read together, but the bulk of the book is about Alice's relationship with her dad, and the way that relationship influenced the rest of her life and the choices she made. From the opening anecdote, where Alice and Jim are reading together on a train and someone asks them why (who would do that, BTW? Wouldn't you just silently applaud??), it's pretty clear that the bond between this father and daughter runs amazingly deep. Though Alice's mother makes some brief appearances, her dad appears to have been the center point around which Alice's life turned. And the reading seems to have been the bond that kept the two connected, even through the aftermath of parental divorce and the tumult of the teenage years.

Parts of this memoir made me laugh right out loud: Jim's stubborn insistence on reading despite a wicked bout of laryngitis ("you are like some sort of voiceless alien" Alice tells him); Alice's sales pitches to drum up business for her dad's book fair ("Books are collectors' items, especially if you collect books"); Jim's efforts to eradicate Alice's irrational yet persistent fear that her room is haunted by the ghost of JFK ("Would I be talking to you so calmly if the body of an ex-president was lying on your bottom bunk?"). But other parts are incredibly moving, such as Alice's sister leaving home and the end of The Streak, which, though impossibly sad, is, of course, inevitable. At the end I was compelled to go back and read Jim's introduction, feeling, now that I knew their story, a thousand times more moved by a father's words.

Not many parents still read to their nine-year-olds, although if you asked them I'm pretty certain that most nine-year-olds would secretly love to be read to. But Jim Brozina did, and he kept reading long past the point where everyone else would have given up. And that, as they say, made all the difference.

If you already read to your kiddo, as we do, you probably don't need any encouragement to keep on doing so. But maybe you'd like a glimpse into the future, to see what could be, the outcome of the bond forged by sharing books together. Here's one such glimpse, and it couldn't be better.

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma, published by Hachette
Source: Library
Sample quote: "We were already good at routines, but The Streak was anything but. Every night was different because every story was different. Even when a book started to drag, as some did late in the second half, there was still the thrill of getting closer to our goal to make things a little more interesting. But as my father told him, and as anyone who reads regularly might agree, the only thing that has to be similar from night to night is the act of turning pages."
Highly recommended

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