After the hellacious pace of my last doctoral semester, life has fallen into a pleasant rhythm of schedule for me. When most teaching days end, I head to the hospital or one of several local shelters to read for an hour, or so.
Today I stepped out of my car, hoisted my bag of books over my shoulder, and stepped into the shelter. I smelled dirty diaper right away. A good sign that I would find at least one child to read to.
I found three. Three of the darlingest cherubs ever. Chubby cheeks and big sparkling eyes. These children are strangers to me and yet they run immediately in my direction, without the slightest hint of shyness, raise chubby arms in the international sign to be picked up, and lay downy heads onto my shoulder. My heart melts instantly.
I find a place to sit where all can see the book I am about to read. I choose “Don’t Press the Button” by Bill Cotter. All three clamber to sit beside me, or on my lap. Don’t Press the Button is read-aloud gold. It’s funny and fun. By the second page, my audience is roaring with approval and deep belly giggles. They obediently press the button upon command and hearty laughter fills the room like shafts of warm yellow sunshine. I’m pretty sure the one on my lap is the one with the dirty diaper, but I don’t mind. The joy on these little faces is worth any momentary olfactory offence.
A parent is laughing, too. I find age-appropriate books for each child and read them aloud. He and his children gratefully accept their books and he promises to read them all again before bed tonight. I smile with satisfaction. This is exactly my hope each time I read to a child. I hope that the book I hand them will be read multiple times. So many times that the edges get tattered and the pages frayed. I hope that the children will memorize the pictures, know the words by rote memory, and have them spring to conscious memory at odd times in their adult lives, as the favorite books from my own childhood do. I hope that the parent reading will grow weary of reading them over and over, (and over and over).
I hope that the laughter and joy of a silly book with bright colors and mischievous characters will burn indelible neural pathways into those little, developing brains, and create a lifelong love of literature. I hope that their vocabulary warehouses will grow and that early reading skills will take root.
I hope that all of them will think about me in the coming week and look forward to my visit next Monday, eager for another book.
I hope that Project Armchair can give many books to these beautiful children over the course of the next weeks, and possibly months.
I hope so much for these children, and those like them.
Project Armchair hit the thousand mark at some point around the end of 2017. One thousand children read to and one thousand books given away. That number may not seem significant to you, but it is staggering to me. If you packed one thousand children into a single facility, it would seem like a whale-of-a-lot of kids. If you stacked one thousand books on top of one another it would be an impressive structure. One thousand is a LOT.
I could not possibly reach that many kids by myself in two years. It is the faithful army of teacher-volunteers that show up on the pediatric floor at the end of a long workday, or selflessly sacrifice a Saturday morning. I am so grateful for their service. And humbled by the donations of books that find their way into our coffers.
It all makes what happened today possible. Precious children, cooped up in a shelter, or confined to a hospital bed, get a moment of reprieve from trying circumstances through the magic of a really good book.
I was reminded today that it is all very much worth it.