Let's Talk with Debra H. Goldstein

Why I Celebrate National Literacy Day

September 8, 2022

Today, September 8, is National Literacy Day. It is a day that I can’t let pass without commenting on as a writer, reader, and mother/grandmother.

As a writer, I hope people will find and embrace my books to escape from the moment. My writing goal, especially with the Sarah Blair series, is that my books be fun and enjoyable for those who pick them up.

The essence of fun and discovery is what draws me to all different types of books. I have always been an avid reader. Books transported me to new worlds, improved my language skills, and educated me far beyond my live childhood experiences. Being a shy child, communing with a book was far easier and often more satisfactory than spending time with others.

If I don’t do anything else, my goal as a mother and grandmother is to instill the next generations with the same understanding and love of books. Today, my grandchildren have nicknamed me The Reading Grandma because I never arrive without a new book in hand. Once they are old enough, one of our outings includes going to the bookstore. Why? Because studies have shown that if a child receives and learns to read at least fifteen books before entering school, the child has a better chance for success (United Way’s Success by 6 programs; Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library).

Each of these things can stand on their own, but I think my championing of literacy and literacy day comes from four distinct memories:

When I was five or six, I had a speech problem. My mind worked faster than I could get words out of my mouth. One of the things prescribed to help me overcome this problem was to read poetry aloud. For several years, every night my father had me read the works of famous poets aloud, but he also took the time to explain the concepts tied to the poems. Without him, I may never have understood that Walt Whitman’s “Oh Captain, My Captain” wasn’t merely talking about a sea captain, but instead was a metaphoric reaction to the death of Abraham Lincoln.

My mother encouraged my love of books by taking me to the library every week and being generous with what she allowed me to order from each Scholastic Book Fair. Born in Austria, English was not my mother’s native language, but she became proficient in it and knew that through reading, I would expand my vocabulary and be intellectually stimulated. The maddest I ever saw her was when my school system announced that because of funding issues, it was cutting debate, art, journalism, and library services, but keeping the sports program intact. She and a group of others fought hard against this move. They succeeded in having the literary arts system maintained.

While I was in college, there was a movement to ban several books. I read the books and wrote a paper contrasting the books with the motivation people offered for their removal. Most of their arguments weren’t based on the books themselves but on prejudicial thoughts held about the themes or covers of the books. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird was a target because of its rape and racism themes and it being immoral. An edition of Cress Delahanty’s cover was believed to be too provocative. The narrow mindedness of people arguing without reading for themselves convinced me of the need to give people the tools to be literate and make their own informed decisions.

Finally, flash forward to 2011, when I returned to my childhood hometown as part of the book tour for my first book, Maze in Blue. When the local paper decided to run a feature article, the reporter met me at my old high school to take pictures for the article. To my surprise, the library was empty – no books, no bookshelves. What my mother had fought against so many years earlier had happened. A new group of mothers were fighting to have the libraries reinstated by the school system. Although I no longer lived in the town or state, I joined their efforts by agreeing to come back to be part of a fundraiser/attention event they would arrange.

For $35, an individual could support the movement, hear a book lecture by an author, receive a copy of Maze in Blue, and have cake made by the town’s top wedding cake baker. For an extra few dollars, a BBQ dinner was available in the school’s cafeteria. Whether it was the cake, book, author, or band members enthusiastically playing a welcome, the 200 tickets sold out. This was only one of many events that the mothers held, coordinated with persuasive presentations to the school board and other officials. The upshot was that the school system reversed its stance and brought back school libraries. My role was small, but the women involved made me again understand the importance of literacy and how easily it can be lost. While I may view reading for its fun aspects, literacy also holds the key for world peace and understanding at all levels of government and human involvement.

So, here’s to National Literacy Day! For a chance to win an unsigned print copy of Maze in Blue drop-shipped to you, leave a comment with examples of how literacy or literacy efforts have impacted your life or what you think about literacy programs.

Also while you’re here, Click over to enter our monthly contest. Last day to enter is Sept 18! Don’t delay!

Posted in Let's Talk, with Debra H. Goldstein • Tags: , , , |  29 Comments


29 thoughts on “Why I Celebrate National Literacy Day

  1. Hi Debra, I am also from a reading family. It was my dad who took me to the library every week and helped me check out books in the adult stacks. I also read late into the night with a flashlight under the covers.

  2. I read voraciously from the moment I learned to read. The library was my escape. Unfortunately, my first grade teacher got annoyed that I was so far ahead of the rest of the class that she told my mother to curtail my reading until everyone else caught up! Some people shouldn’t be teachers! P.S.: I kept going to the library.

    1. Bet we went to the same library. Because we went to the same grammar school, do you remember which teacher it was? I never ran into that problem…luckily as I too was reading ahead of my class. Though I do have one funny teacher story….

  3. National Literacy Day. That’s wonderful.
    Where would we be without words, books, libraries? I enjoyed the book mobile and still frequent the library and book stores. I believe that a library card is one of the most Important cards in your wallet. Rock on readers.

  4. I agree with you Debra about literacy. I’m proud to say that in 2016 I organized a group of Hawaii mystery writers to produce Paradise, Passion, Murder: 10 Tales of Mystery from Hawaii. The anthology supported Read Aloud America’s efforts in Hawaii to improve literacy in families. As luck would have it, Left Coast Crime was held in Honolulu just after publication and RAA became the supported charity for the conference. Congrats on your support and for this post!

    1. Terry, thank you. Your efforts on behalf of Read Aloud America are much to be admired – especially getting so many Hawaii mystery writers and then LCC to follow suit in supporting RLA. Kudos.

  5. I have loved reading since I was a small child. My nieces’ knew that their birthday and Christmas presents would include a trip to Half Price Books. These are special memories because last year I moved about 750 miles away and can’t do that anymore.

    My nieces’ mother is a fluent Spanish speaker and taught middle school Spanish for many years. When my nieces’ were adopted from Central America she spoke Spanish to them and her husband spoke English. When the older girl was younger than two she knew which books only Mommy could read to her and which either parent could. That blew me away and showed me the power of books.

    1. What an interesting observation of how your niece could tell which book which parent could read to her. That means they read to her often and she responded. Sorry you won’t be able to make the book trip since your move, but I bet you’ll find another way to do so.

  6. Debra,
    I started reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in the first or second grade and I still remember bits of the book. Like you, I always bring books when I visit my grandkids.

  7. Huge readers in my family. I always remember taking my grandma paper grocery bags full of books of all different genres and how fast she would read and enjoy them all. My Mother, Grandmother and I would share book all the time. My kindle is my version of the paper bag. I am never without a “book” no matter where I go. I have instilled this love of reading in my child also.

  8. Great essay, Debra. I think most writers have similar childhood memories about their libraries. Mine are more odd than most, I think. For some reason when I was a youngster, I was allergic to the smell of our library. Don’t know what the odor that knocked me down was–ink, old paper, mold, something weird in the construction?–but every time it made me sick after a short while there. Even so, I always managed to grab an armful of books before I felt too ill.

  9. I love your passion for reading–and I share it. When my girls were little we had a reading ritual every night before bed for years. Both were reading when they started school, but sadly, the reading bug didn’t ignite in them the way it did in me. The grandkids have received plenty of books from me over the years, and I think I have one or two who LOVE reading out of the five-pack. Without reading, history is lost and repeats itself in ever tightening circles, or so it seems.

  10. Through her love of history and traveling to historic sites my mother instilled in me at a very early age an eagerness to read to satisfy my curiosity about people, places and events. She always bought at least two books as souvenirs of every place we visited. One of the books was always a cookbook reflecting the area’s favorite foods (past and present) and the other was a history of the area (preferably written by a local citizen). Literacy is dear to my heart because reading has made my life so much richer and has given my imagination room to soar. Our two children are now grown so we have dinner every two weeks with them to catch up on everything and the main topic of conversation is “What are you reading?” This week we celebrated my 76th birthday and their gift to me was from Blind Date with a Book, a wonderful business that surprises you with a book in your favorite genre. We have two grandchildren who love to read too. Books have given us so much in common which is important to keep the three generations talking to one another and exchanging ideas.

    1. Linda,
      what a wonderful idea of using books for generational discussion and interaction… Had not heard of Blind Date with a Book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. BTW, happy birthday belatedly.

  11. I have always been a reader and a book lover. I think school libraries and public library summer reading programs are great encouragers of literacy and help promote a love of books and reading.

  12. I can so relate since I am passionate about reading. I homeschool and taught my son and daughter to read. While both really enjoyed being read to and learning to read for themselves, neither are quite as passionate as I am. Between the two, my daughter is the more passionate reader, but still not as avid as I am.

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