I’ve been reading so long it would be a fool’s errand to conjure up the earliest memory I have of sounding out letters to form words and stringing together words to form sentences. I realized early on that reading opened up possibilities of new worlds and new experiences. It was many years into my ability to read, however, before I first understood the real impact of literacy.
Literacy, to me, means more than understanding words on a page. Literacy is the door through which we walk the path to communication and understanding. My earliest memory of this kind of communication and understanding comes from a mid-August night. With the first day of third grade right around the corner, it was all I could do to hurriedly finish my summer reading. The final book on my list was Wilson Rawls’ timeless Where the Red Fern Grows. With a heavy sigh on the twilight of summer vacation, I started into it.
My mother, also having never read it, suggested we read it together chapter for chapter. Realizing I would only have to read half of the book, I eagerly agreed. And so we set out, determined to read at least a few chapters that evening. What ensued over those next hours taught me nearly everything I know about the power of literacy.
Page after page, it became evident that the real experience was not necessarily the story contained within the pages, but the act of reading the chapters aloud to one another. By doing so, we shared a common experience. We paused briefly between chapters to discuss the story and recap the plot.
As the story wore on and it became more difficult to read through each chapter (those of you that are familiar with the story know that a box of Kleenex is an essential accessory to the final act), trading the book back and forth occurred more frequently. By the end of the night, we finished the book.
The simple act of reading a story together taught me what can be shared through literacy. It is more than the meaning of the words on a page -- it is community. Literacy can not only open windows to the outside world, but also can build bridges between readers.