So much has changed in our world since last I wrote. I could write of course about the coronavirus and the current situation we all are facing, and I often feel as though I should and must, but I find I do not yet have adequate words. I have ideas, impressions, thoughts, opinions. But, I am sure you can relate that, these days, it takes ever so much to do what needs to be done in these new conditions, and having the space for deep thought while teaching online and helping our girls homeschool is certainly a challenge. I suspect I will come round to being ready to write on current events, but for now, I hope this post will be a pleasant, momentary escape.
It is one of my favorite books, one I imagine I'll always treasure, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It is heartening also to know that all proceeds from its purchase benefit the New York Public Library system.
Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick edit the book, having invited immensely interesting people around the world: scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, authors, TV personalities, and more, to write a letter to young readers about the joy of reading and what reading means to them. Each double-page spread includes a touching letter to a young reader on the left and striking artwork on the right, where a well-known artist has illustrated the letter.
I shared about this beloved and inspirational book at a faculty meeting in January, and a passionate fifth grade teacher ordered it while still sitting in the meeting. She shared the beautiful book with her fifth grade students, and her students wrote their own "Dear Reader" letters, creating their own art to illustrate their letters. I had the pleasure and honor of visiting their classes to read some of their letters and to see their truly stunning collages and paintings. Best of all, the students seemed immensely proud of their work and seemed to really thrive on the assignment. I determined to write my own "Dear Reader" letter to be able to share with these fifth graders, by way of response and also in gratitude for their moving, heartfelt work. Beneath is my "Dear Reader" letter, and below that is the collage I created to illustrate it. I look forward to sharing these with the fifth graders in our virtual classes perhaps this week. I hope, perhaps, my words will resonate with you also.
Maybe you sometimes feel like an outsider: in your family, or at school, or in your community. You feel different. Books can be the voice of reassurance telling you that you are not alone. You are understood. Others have gone before you and felt as you do, have loved things different to the loves of those around them. Have been set alight with inspiration by different mechanisms than their siblings, their parents, their classmates, their neighborhood friends.
Maybe you feel limited. Your world feels squeezed tight and small: stifling, frustrating. Books can be your cathedral, opening up your inner world to the beyond, beyond. And sometimes this unfurling opens up your outer world as well. It helps you to breathe easier, freer, to see your way out of restrictions.
Maybe you feel overwhelmed, under siege. The people around feel like too much. Too demanding, too loud, too confusing. You don’t feel up to the task of competing or appeasing the clamoring voices. Books can be your cloister, your secluded hideaway, your prized retreat.
I tell you this because I know: for those maybes are mine. I have felt all those things; different, limited, overwhelmed. Books alleviate these alienating sensations, if only for a moment. The right book has spoken to me: you are different but not alone in your difference. You are not a freak to feel as you feel. Others love these loves, others are set afire by these flames, others need breathing space and sacred solitude.
When you find yourself in the pages of a book, you feel known. And when you realize the great beauty and relief that it brings, you will want to press a just-right book into a hand of a friend, a family member, a classmate, a neighbor: so that they too can feel their all-rightness; they too can explore a vaster mental space; they too can nestle away in the comfort of a knowing book, a book that speaks their language.