I am a very low-maintenance person... even my husband would say so. I have about four shirts that are worth wearing, which can make getting dressed on Fridays tricky, and I have the sum total of probably three pairs of shoes I actually like. I don't usually wear a lot of jewelry, except for hoop earrings and my wedding ring (which seems non-negotiable). I wear the earrings because I'm not that skilled with makeup. I figure if I'm not good at decorating my face, I might as well decorate my head as a diversion. (This explains why my hair is highlighted. It helps me compensate for the lack of makeup, but I leave the hair color to the professionals because, some things, you just should not try on your own.) It's like this... when I put on "nice" jeans and iron a shirt, my children say, "Ooh, Mommy, you're dressed up!"
All that being said, there is one thing I can't live without. One thing I always look for when we're out. One thing I collect. Books! And they're sort of my proud high-maintenance moment. (Every girl should have something high-maintenance, right?) This is our family's "library." I love calling it that. It's a tiny room between my kids' bedrooms and I actually paid extra for the shelves and window seat when we built the house several years back. I was inspired by George Vanderbilt's library after visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC and promised myself that someday we'd have a room we could call a library. (If you've ever been to the Biltmore, you're laughing because you realize my library is the roughly the size of his produce pantry.) It doesn't matter, though. It's ours. And it holds books we've been collecting for more than 20 years, even a few books I had when I was a kid, like Are You My Mother? and Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret. (Remember Judy Blume?)
It's filled with books and blankets and magazines and stuffed characters from stories. Believe it or not (and this is the high-maintenance part), all the books don't fit in this space. I have them tucked into little places all over the house.
I wish every child had access to books in his or her home, especially books that belonged only to them, even if it's just a few very special favorites in a little basket kept beside their bed. Did you know in some of the most literate countries in the world, families are given stipends earmarked for buying books for at-home libraries? We know the value of reading to children from infancy and we know how critical early literacy and parent involvement are in creating readers and writers. It's important to educate families about the benefits of supporting this development at home, particularly for students who struggle to make gains as readers and writers. Some families overlook their community's public library system and non-English speaking families sometimes need guidance learning how to get library cards. In our school, we work to inform parents of ways they can get books inexpensively so their child can experience "book ownership." (That's a very powerful thing... to have books that belong only to you, that never have to be returned, that you can write your own name in.) Places like the Goodwill Bookstore and Scholastic are great places to start collections. And don't forget yard sales... lots of goodies there.
What are your ideas?... How have you communicated some of these ideas to the families of children you work with? What ideas or tips can you share for helping build at-home libraries? How do you make sure books get home?