I’ve seen a few items in the news lately about The Molina Foundation giving away more than 5,000 books this summer to Community Action Programs across Maine. The books are to be handed out to kids served by the programs.
It reminded me of a story I read once, I think in People magazine, where a woman started a foundation to give books to kids after an experience she had as a teaching aide in a grade-school classroom. The teacher had asked the kids to bring in their favorite book, and one little boy brought in an advertising circular. It was the only reading material in his house.
We know that reading helps kids in school, helps them develop empathy and imagination, helps with critical thinking skills — all sorts of stuff. When aspiring writers ask me for advice, one of the things I always stress is be a reader. You can’t be a good writer if you’re not one. Most writers tell people who ask them the same thing.
I’m descended from two families of prolific readers, so it was already in my DNA when my mother started bringing me and my siblings to the local library before we could even walk — or read. It wasn’t hard to develop into a reader in a house full of books, newspapers and magazines, where everybody — particularly my parents — read all the time.
Remember in grade school how we’d order those scholastic books? I can still remember what it was like the day they came — the box with all the copies of the books in them, fresh and shiny and smelling new.
I have never been unhappy when given a book for a gift.
I always felt sorry for kids who didn’t enjoy reading. They didn’t know what they were missing.
But it occurred to me a few days ago there are kids to feel even sorrier for.
I was at the wonderful Designing Women Art & Craft Show in Manchester with fellow Maine Crime Writers Lea Wait and Jen Blood Saturday. A young girl — I’m guessing about 12 — zeroed right in on Lea’s new middle-grade book “Pizza to Die For.”
She asked her mother, who was browsing nearby, if she could buy it. At $8, it was a steal. At least I thought so. The mother, without even stopping to check the book out, said no. The daughter begged, the mother said something like “I’m not buying you a book,” in a tone that most parents would use if the kid asked for 10 pounds of candy or a pet alligator.
The girl, disheartened, put the book back.
I’ll let you all do your own speculation on all the things related to that story. And those of you gearing up to defend the mother — I don’t want to hear it. Her reaction wasn’t reluctant, it wasn’t one someone has when they just don’t have the money or another good reason to make a purchase they otherwise would. She practically sneered at the poor kid.
My first thought was to buy the book myself and sneak it to the kid, but I had a feeling that would cause more trouble than it would solve.
Is there any reason in the world to deny a child a book?
I can’t think of one.
In fact, want to change the world for the better? I have to believe the more books we get into kids’ hands the better off we’re all going to be. And I’m not just saying that because I write books and want people to buy them. Find something the kid likes and let him read that. Something. Anything. Sooner or later, they’ll catch the bug and branch out.
The scene was still bothering me tonight when I picked up some take-out a little while ago.
The Chinese restaurant was a little family run place on Main Street in Yarmouth, quiet on a Tuesday night. When I went in to get my food, the father was doing the cooking, the mother and a boy I assume is their son — he looked to be about the same age as the girl the other day — were running the counter. There was a book open on the counter, “The Maze Runner,”by James Dashner, that I assumed belong to the mother.
The boy’s Harry Potter book was on the counter nearby with a bookmark sticking out.
It was a little bit of serendipity and it made me feel good.
Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Twitter at@mmilliken47 and like her Facebook page at Maureen Milliken mysteries. Sign up for email updates at maureenmilliken.com. She hosts the podcast Notes from a Cranky Editor all by herself, as well Crime&Stuff with her sister Rebecca Milliken.