This past week I had the honor and joy of speaking to thousands of high school and college students, many of whom had read either SKYWARD or THE BUTTERFLY'S DAUGHTER for their summer reads program.  Bravo to Principal Rodney Graves at Crest High School in Shelby, NC; Principal Jeff Stevens at Spartanburg High School; Dr. Terry Pruitt of Spartanburg School District 7, SC; and Dr. Colleen Keith at Spartanburg Methodist College and their staff and the entire communities for encouraging strong reading programs!  Especially the summer reads program that included contemporary books the students selected. Use it or lose it doesn't only apply to the brains of older folks. 

The students I talked to were excited about reading. The day I visited Crest High School was the culmination of their summer read program. I walked through the halls while 100 classrooms were filled with students all talking about books! Does that even happen anymore?  It was thrilling to witness.  At Spartanburg High I was part of a panel with students discussing my books. I sat back in awe and listened to them debate plot and characters with emotion. At Spartanburg Methodist College, a two-year college, I was impressed by the commitment of the faculty and staff to support their students so that 80% of the graduates continue on to a four-year college.  An astonishing feat that beats the standard. The faculty and staff of all these institutions are spreading excitement about reading, putting books in students' hands, making reading relevant in their communities.
Yet, literacy begins at home.  Encouraging reading is not only the responsibility of our schools.  We parents and grandparents model behavior for our children-- and that includes reading. Many of us read to our children when they sat in our laps as toddlers or very young readers.  Too often, however, as our children get older we relinquish our role as reading mentor to the teachers.

I challenge parents, grandparents, and concerned relatives to read a book that is being read by your child. Then discuss it! Bring the book discussion to the dinner table.  Unplug the electronics and turn off the TV.  Talk about it in the car.  How often do you ask your child, "How was school?"  And then get the dismissive answer, "Good."  Try asking your child who his/her favorite character was in the book, or did he agree with the choice the character made, did she like the ending or what did she think the characters might do after the book ended?

If we want our children to read, we must read ourselves.  If we want to improve communication with our children and each other, we must create a calm and safe atmosphere that encourages discussion.  As parents, we must listen to and respect our child's opinion, even if--especially if--it differs from our own.  My son and I have polar opposite political opinions. But I love that he feels he can share his ideas and thoughts with us. Books that are read together can be a great jumping off point for discussions.  You'll be amazed, as I was this past week, by some of the strong voices and opinions you will hear!

High school and college are golden years.  A time of self discovery and dreams. Of finding one's own voice. Give a child a book and you give him or her the keys to his imagination.  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said,
"There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all."

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All the best,
Mary Alice