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A life of literacy starts at home


Jan. 27 was Family Literacy Day, a day set aside to raise awareness of the importance of reading and of engaging in literacy-based activities as a family.

I come from a family of readers. No, we didn’t sit around reading the classics or thick books by prestigious authors, but we all read, or were read to, from the time we were old enough to sit on a lap.

My mother had been a teacher, and one might think that was why she was well read, but my dad had left school at his earliest opportunity, and read nonetheless. Mother loved Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and had a Book of the Month Club subscription when she could afford it, but she also enjoyed magazines, from Reader’s Digest to Chatelaine and Ladies’ Home Journal, and especially the British women’s magazines her sisters sent her from “over home.”

Bookshelves filled the entire end of a walk-in closet, holding everything from the favourites from my older siblings’ youth to Mother’s collection of poetry and fiction, gathered over the years. Shelves above the closet rods held stacks of magazines, stored away in case a recipe or a story might come in handy at a later date.

Father’s drop-front desk, which now graces the corner by my favourite chair, has a shelf underneath, and that was where Father’s thick volumes on farming and animal husbandry were stored for easy reference, and is still their home today. Mostly, however, Father read the farming papers, such as the Winnipeg Free Press and Country Guide, and the Calgary Herald, which came in our rural mailbox until I went to school, and was delivered by the school bus driver after that.

Father always claimed that I started reading the Herald by the time I was four, sitting on his lap and asking him what the words were, and he and I also read our way through every Eaton’s Catalogue that came through our door.

Mother and my older siblings read to me as well, mostly from the books they had loved as children, some of which would be politically incorrect today, especially one about a little boy named Sambo, who lived in the jungle, and when a tiger chased him around and around a tree until it turned into melted butter, his mother, Mambo, made pancakes.

It wasn’t long until I also inherited the older kids’ bookcase and the books therein, some of which I still have today, although they’re in a trunk and the bookcase is filled with more recent volumes. I had magazines, too  - Jack and Jill, a subscription from the States called Wee Wisdom, and one sent from England in the same bundle as my mother’s. I added to the bookshelf’s contents by saving my allowance and buying one Bobbsey Twins book after another, as well as the Anne of Green Gables series, while a series on pioneer life came from the States. Often, however, I would turn to the books my big sisters had loved, such as “Girl of the Limberlost” or “The Campfire Girls’ Adventures,” before their taste changed to Hit Parade and movie magazines.

When my sister, her husband and little boy came from Minnesota to visit, I saw that they were giving him a great start in literary enjoyment as well. I learned the stories his dad read him by heart, as did he, always asking to hear “Mrs. Ticklefeather” or the story about Little Benny, “who wanted a pony but found a penny.” With a start like that, he went on to earn a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s in English.

When we ourselves had kids, I started reading to them as soon as they were old enough to pay attention, starting out with the Little Golden Books but soon moving along to “The Velveteen Rabbit” and “Winnie the Pooh”. That was actually my first acquaintance with Pooh, having somehow missed out during my childhood, but you might be surprised (or not) how much of that I could recite, along with the poetry learned at my mother’s knee and the hilarious “Where the Wild Things Are”, which I delighted in reading to my grandchildren.

The legacy of literacy must be passed on.

P.S. Jan. 27 was also National Chocolate Cake Day. A good book and a slice of chocolate cake – what more could anyone ask for? World peace, yes, but if everyone had a good book and a slice of cake, it might go a long way toward bringing that about!



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