International Literacy Day is celebrated on September 8, 2021.
Some of my favorite moments from motherhood involve reading with my children. When they were little, we’d snuggle up every night before bed and read our favorites— like Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, and Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton— and they’d ask for another and another and another. I like to think this is where they developed their love of reading and words, as we bonded over the beauty and simplicity of these books. But really, as I think about their reading histories, their love of literacy developed through interaction after interaction with books and words and the ideas they inspire, and is still developing.
In 1966 UNESCO introduced International Literacy Day on September 8th. The mission is to “remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies.” While there is much we can do to support global literacy, I believe our efforts must start at home, and perhaps these titles can inspire a love of literacy in your home, as well.
Introducing children to the playful pages of children’s books will foster the idea that reading can be fun. We spent hours reading The Jolly Postman, exploring the letters and cards and notes enclosed in the pages, and discovering how words and writing can be used in different ways. The Fancy Nancy books were also well-loved in our home, where my children learned advanced vocabulary while reading about Nancy’s antics. Laughing at Lyle, Lyle Crocodile and No, David (all the David books are great!) and bonding over the silly-ness of books are also ways to encourage literacy.
We can also teach our children through these stories. Todd Parr’s The Family Book and It’s Okay to Make Mistakes (and all of the others by him) open up a world of possibility for our children. My girls also loved Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall and Whoever You Are by Mem Fox because they encouraged them to be themselves. Jacqueline Woodson’s books are excellent for teaching empathy, like The Other Side and Each Kindness, and I even use these books in my high school classroom.
Upper Elementary / Middle Grades
Speaking of older children, my girls are growing up, and while we still love picture books from time to time, they’ve moved on to other genres and authors that are now becoming equally as loved. My youngest, a fifth-grader, is drawn to graphic novels. I marvel at her ability to read this way, as reading graphic novels involves a whole new set of literacy skills. They go beyond the picture book and blend pictures with all the same literary elements of traditional novels, and require a great deal of skill and attention to read. One of her favorites is the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. This manga series has intrigue, magic, complex characters, and drama, and my daughter couldn’t put it down.
She’s also into the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar. We started this series as a family read-aloud a few years ago, and she’s back to reading the later books in the series this year. I love to hear her giggle as she tells me about what she read each day and the ridiculousness that is Wayside School.
My oldest, as a sixth-grader, found delight in one of my favorite books from my youth, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It’s a mystery and challenges the reader to solve it before all is revealed. My daughter is also becoming close with her librarian and is broadening her reading. She’s discovering authors like April Henry, who wrote Girl, Stolen, a thriller, and Kelly Yang, who wrote Front Desk, a book based on her own experiences. Her world is opening up thanks to her wonderful English/Language Arts teacher and her librarian—great resources for any parent looking to help a child fall in love with literacy.
I spend a lot of time reading young adult books for my job, and I love talking about them with my students. I look forward to sharing this with my own kids someday. If you have high schoolers, there are so many good books out there. Some of my favorites from the past few years are Holding Up the Universe, by Jennifer Niven, about an unlikely friendship and much-needed support, and Whirligig, by Paul Fleischman. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (or any Jason Reynolds book), a book written in poem form about a boy who can’t escape the “rules” of his community.
On this International Literacy Day, let’s read with our kids, no matter their ages, and get back to those early memories of connection through the written word. Let’s celebrate the mirrors and windows that books provide for us and continue to foster a love of literacy in our families.