The Year of the Young Reader

It was 1989. Our son was a student at Jefferson Elementary School in Boise, Idaho. And now, even though it is 30 years later, I remember those days clearly. It was a busy time in my life, I was working full time while trying very hard to be an involved father. I arranged my schedule so I had time to volunteer at the elementary school. I was active in the PTA. I had a very active youth group at the church and I was always promoting rallies and lock-ins and mission trips and other youth events and activities.

1989 tshirt
1989 was declared “The Year of the Young Reader.” Jefferson Elementary School adopted the theme and participated in the celebration. The children got matching t-shirts with a logo and the words, “Give us Books, Give us Wings.” We celebrated by reading to our children, having them read to us, and making sure that the library was a part of our weekly activities. It was a good time.

Now, thirty years have passed. The little boy who lived in our home at that time and who wore that blue t-shirt is now grown up and a father of three wonderful children. He is now a librarian - director of the Mount Vernon, Washington city library. He has a staff to direct, a foundation to staff, a library to run, programs to plan and a huge building program just getting underway. And, on his days off, he is often found with a t-shirt that sports a library or librarian theme. Those t-shirts have sort of become his trademark. He likes to be seen in his town with a librarian shirt while playing with his kids at the park or taking them to a movie.

My wife, who is more organized than I, got out that 30-year-old t-shirt as we were preparing our home for the visit of our son and his children. At the bottom of the stairs she placed a small bookshelf and filled it with children’s books. She has a very good collection of children’s books. She selected titles that are appropriate for read aloud to the younger children and reading by the oldest. And, above the bookshelf she hung the blue t-shirt.

Ah, the memories that shirt invokes. I suggested that perhaps the shirt should go home with our son and his family, either as a garment worn by one of his children, or perhaps on its way to being part of a display at his library, or both.

The children were all ready for bed. They’d had supper and time to play. They’d gotten into their pajamas and brushed their teeth. They’d gotten a drink of water and were all set. I started to head to the basement to get ready for this morning’s busy activities and I heard a voice, “Poppa Ted, would you like to read me a book?”

Of course the answer was yes. I really do enjoy reading to the children and I really am grateful that they still ask me to read. One book became three and soon two little girls were listening intently as I read to them. Their brother was reading a book to himself while lying on the couch in the same room.

I’m a huge fan of books. I have surrounded myself with books all of my life. I have recently been sorting books and have filled several boxes with books that are headed for the rummage sale. I have another stack of books that will be heading to a used book merchant. I’ve sold some books to I’m trying hard not to collect more books, reading most of my new titles on our tablet computer. One of the things that convinced me to learn to read on the tablet, even though I love real paper books in my hands and turning real paper pages, is that I can carry a dozen books with me on the tablet. It is great for traveling. One of the great memories of my life includes hours upon of hours spent at the Joseph Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago. The magnificent building is five stories plus a basement of books and at the time we lived in Chicago it seemed as if I could fine any book I could ever want in that library. I could spend hours just leafing through the full multiple-volumes Oxford English Dictionary. The library owned multiple copies. It was amazing!

A few years later and I found myself taking our children to the Boise Public Library with its distinctive sign on the face of the brick building that said, “LIBRARY!” That exclamation point was an important part of the culture of our town.

A few years later and our son is a librarian and his children ask their grandpa to read to them. It is a pleasure that is so exquisite that it is hard to express in words. The love of reading and of books has made it to the third generation. Only it is much deeper than that. My mother loved books and her father before her. I come from a long line of people who loved language and letters and books. I can see a bit of my mother in my granddaughters. I know that my grandfather would be delighted to see my grandson perched on the sofa with his nose buried in a book.

I don’t know what the future will bring. I know that one of the big jobs of the next few years will be to downsize our library and choose which books are the most precious and therefore the books that we will keep and move with us to the next place where we will live. I also know that 1989 indeed was the “Year of the Young Reader.” It was an important year in our lives and in the story of our family. The t-shirt is just a symbol of something much more important. Reading is a joy that is worth passing on to our children and grandchildren.

Let’s make every year “The Year of the Young Reader.”

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!