Cappers Farmer Blogs > Old Dog, New Tricks

Books and Breaking the Cycle

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Here is a sad statistic from Utah First Lady, Jeanette Herbert: “86 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems, and 60 percent of prison inmates are illiterate.”

I’m sure you have read about the importance of reading to a child. There are many statistics about how children who are read to have higher achievement and better self-esteem. Well, I wasn’t one of those to receive this help. It makes me sad to think that I didn’t have a single book as a small child, and have no remembrance of either parent reading to me or holding me and looking at a picture book. I even inquired of my older sisters-in-law if they remembered me having any books; they did not. 

My mother went through the 8th grade, and my father went part time through the 5th. They were hardworking farmers, and I have no resentment towards them for my lack of books and being read to. I often wonder how my mother had any time to give me attention or even keep me safe while she did all required of her back then. When I was older, she told me I could do anything I set my mind to. However, I often wonder how different I might be if I had had books and other important stimulation as a young child.

I never owned a book until a class friend, Connie Marsh, gave me one at my very first birthday party. I’m guessing I was in third or fourth grade. I still have it. So, when did I fall in love with reading? Well, in grade school, our teacher often read a continuing story aloud after the noon hour, and it was my favorite time of the day. It could be argued that she wasn’t actually teaching during that time, but we were given something very valuable — the love of books. Also, my mom started gathering with a few ladies on wintry Saturday nights at the small public library in our home town of Washta, Iowa. They mostly sat around knitting or crocheting, but one night she brought home one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. I was hooked.  

When I had children of my own, I had the time and opportunity to break the cycle. Not only did our young children benefit from my reading to them, but I often felt that I was reclaiming some of my own childhood. I have been so thankful to know that the privilege and appreciation of reading has been passed on. It has been a real blessing as I’ve watched our grandchildren not only be read to, but from such beautifully written and illustrated books.  

reading to children 

My daughter-in-law Krista reading to Charlie and Sophie at bedtime.

"You may have tangible wealth untold
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be.
I had a mother who read to me."
— Strickland Gillilan

I have a precious daughter, who on Mother’s Day and my birthdays, finds something for which to be thankful. This past birthday, Amy wrote about how thankful she was that I read to them as children and dragged them to the library. She mentioned how I read aloud to them in the car on vacations. She said that consequently a book is never far from her reach.  

Then, much to my surprise, our oldest son, Perry, who is a reading specialist at Boy’s Town, Nebraska, called and talked about what he was studying on the vicious cycle of young people not knowing how to read. Then he said he had mainly called because he wanted to thank me for reading to him as a child. It was something he had taken for granted — something he thought normal, but now realized differently. His call seemed quite a coincidence, and I told him about Amy’s message on my birthday card. He agreed with her, and then we reminisced about going to the library when he was little and then reading half of the allotted six books by nap time. As a parent, it is always good to be reminded that you did something right.

I’m going to leave you with an inspiration from one of my favorite poets:

"You’re never too old,
too wacky, too wild,
to pick up a book
and read to a child."
— Dr. Seuss