Frank Bruni on “The Gift of Reading”

Bruni, FrankIn previous posts, I have indicated that, since childhood, I have viewed books as magic carpets that could transport me to destinations throughout the universe as well as back in time to the plains of Troy, to Dickens’ London at Christmas time, and to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, which (in his words) “never was and always will be.” The only limits books have are self-imposed.

Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Frank Bruni for The New York Times. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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Food. Shelter. Play. Love.

Something else, too, and it’s meted out in even less equal measure.

Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read.

Reading fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination, and if they don’t blaze well before elementary school, a child’s education — a child’s life —may be an endless game of catch-up.

That’s a truth at the core of the indispensable organization Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit group that provides hundreds of thousands of free books annually to children age 8 or younger, in particular those from economically disadvantaged homes, where books are a greater luxury and in shorter supply.

I shine a light on Reading Is Fundamental, or R.I.F., for several reasons.

We’re in the midst of giving thanks, and this group deserves plenty. It has distributed more than 410 million books to more than 40 million American children.

We’re on the cusp of the year-end holiday season, during which many people turn their attention to charity, making the most generous of their yearly donations. I urge everyone to think about literacy, books, early childhood education and organizations, like R.I.F., that support them.

And we’re a texting, tweeting, distracted country in which too many children don’t read at grade level, too many forces conspire against any improvement in that and too heavy a price is paid.

R.I.F. just began its 50th year of work — it was born in November 1966 — and is marking that milestone with some new approaches and a fresh determination to spread its message despite budget challenges. With the clampdown on federal spending over recent years, it lost about $24 million in annual funding that it had come to rely on. That represented more than two-thirds of its budget, which now leans harder on private contributions.

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“Reading follows an upward spiral,” said Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do , which was published earlier this year.

“Kids who read more get better at reading, and because they are better at reading, it’s easier and more pleasurable so they read still more,” he said. “And kids who read well don’t just do better in English class — it helps them in math, science and every other class, too.”

I’d go even further. Reading tugs them outside of themselves, connecting them to a wider world and filling it with wonder. It’s more than fundamental. It’s transformative.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter and join me on Facebook.

You can also follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up here for the OpinionToday newsletter.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Frank Bruni, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, writes about politics, popular culture, food and gay rights. Also, he an author of several books, including Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, out now. To learn more about Frank and his work, please click here.

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