You know when I felt we were going to be okay, my little family and me?
When my sister shared that April 12 — the unexpected date of my son’s birth — is Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Day, a national celebration in which families are encouraged to settle down and enjoy books together at home.
The date is a special one: Oliver shares his birthday with author Beverly Cleary, who wrote so many of books beloved by children, including me. Chief among them are the “Ramona” stories. I remember borrowing Ramona Quimby, Age 8 from the library so much that my parents eventually broke down and got me my own copy.
When it came to Cleary’s famous sisters, I was the quintessential older sister — the Beezus — to my little sister’s Ramona. Cleary’s stories were the first “chapter books” I related to on a personal level, seeing shades of both Katie and myself in her delightful characters. Along with Judy Blume’s Super Fudge, another book I read constantly, the “Ramona” novels were my earliest introduction to reading as pleasure. The more time I spent with those folks? The more I realized characters can become as “real” as your own dear friends, which has added texture to my entire life.
My elementary school was fortunate to have a fabulous librarian — a woman with whom I’m still in contact. I remember her helping us select chapter books and encouraging our zest for reading, even dressing up as the Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat on special occasions. I was such a dutiful little reader that, after finishing a story, I ran excitedly back to her with completed book reports that would earn me paper “reading mice.” They were more valuable than gold.
Though 10-week-old Oliver isn’t exactly ready to “drop everything and read,” I want reading to be a part of his world from the get-go — and already love sharing stories with him. My favorite right now is Nancy Tillman’s On the Night You Were Born, which never fails to make me ugly cry, but picture book versions of Old MacDonald and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar are also in heavy rotation.
I’ve imagined building my child’s library and reading books together long before this sweet babe was even a twinkle in my eye. When I was pregnant, I often read to my belly — even when it felt a little silly. In fact, when Ollie was in the NICU, one of the saddest moments I had was sitting in our home library surrounded by the children’s stories I’d been “reading” him for months. I thought I was doing okay — until seeing a stack of board books cracked me right in half.
But that was only temporary, of course. Now that he’s home (and feisty!), I’ve tried to get in the habit of sharing a bedtime — or close to bedtime — story with him. I’ll admit that there have been nights I couldn’t muster the strength, but I already look forward to these quiet moments together and hope that, as he grows, he will do the same.
I want to raise a reader. I want my child to find shades of himself in powerful, courageous, brave and wonderful characters — just like his mom. Though I know Oliver will be his own person, his own man, I know we can find stories that will interest him . . . no matter what he’s someday interested in. And I’m so very ready to walk with him down that literary path!
As a lifelong lover of books, it seemed serendipitous that Oliver’s unexpected birth would fall on a day dedicated to reading — and in honor of a favorite childhood author, no less. My sister shared the news of D.E.A.R. Day with me as I recovered in a hospital bed away from my tiny babe, stunned and hurting and sad.
It felt a little like a novel-toting guardian angel tapping on my shoulder, promising that Ollie and I would have many stories to share.
I couldn’t wait to get started.