Guest Post: The Riches of Reading by David Elliott
In Baabwaa and Wooliam, illustrated by the one-and-only Melissa Sweet, the solitary and cantankerous Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing learns to read and, in so doing, changes his life: He makes friends. He becomes civilized. Even his dental hygiene improves. Hooray!
If only real life were so simple, right?
But maybe it is.
Reading may not prevent that trip to the dentist you’ve been putting off, but it can change and sustain your life. I know that because as a child from a poor and unhappy family, it changed and sustained mine. Here are just a few examples of how.
From Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, I learned that if David Balfour, the book’s young protagonist, could survive the tribulations caused by a deceitful, wicked uncle, David Elliott could survive those brought on by a hostile, dangerous father.
From humorist Robert Benchley’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, I learned that there were other people like me who thought the world was absurd and funny and wonderful. As a very unconventional boy growing up in the very conventional ’50s, this reassuring knowledge was my salvation.
From a comic book, I learned to love the Greek myths. Many years later, thanks to that comic book, I wrote a book in which I retold one.
From a book called Island Boy by Robert R. Harry Sr., I learned that the world was much bigger than the small Ohio farm town where I was born. Later, I lived and worked all over the world, including an island in Western Pacific. The seed for my wanderlust was planted in that book.
And from almost everything I’ve read, I learned that every story, including my own, has a beginning, a middle, and an end, a lesson that is an immeasurable gift when times are tough. When times are good, it helps to deal with the inevitable change that comes when life levels out, or worse, takes a downward turn.
Okay. Enough of that. You get it. Reading has and continues to be a gift in my life. But the point I want to make is that if reading sustained and nurtured me — the least likely candidate on earth for such a bounty — it can and will sustain you and your children.
And here’s the best part. It does this in ways that are impossible to predict or imagine. We never know what change a book might effect in us or in those we cherish. This is why reading is such a radical act. And also why the gift of a book is a gesture of unconditional love. I believe this with all my heart.
In the final pages of Baabwaa and Wooliam, the two sheep learn that teaching the wolf to read has brought him into their circle. All three lives are more complicated now, but they are also richer, fuller, and more open to the surprising possibilities that life has to offer. What gift could be greater?
Register now to win a fantastic Candlewick Prize Pack just in time for Christmas!