Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Giving Thanks

As Thanksgiving approaches, I think of my maternal grandfather.  Back in the day, Christmas lights didn’t show up on houses and holiday shopping didn’t begin in earnest until after Thanksgiving.  The following Friday was the official beginning of the Christmas season.  As the retail world began pushing the ‘buy-me’ state of mind earlier and earlier in the year, Grampap would say, “People should give thanks for what they have before thinking about what they want.”  I agree with him and try to remember to count my many blessings every day.  But since this is November, I am posting my thanks early in honor of Grampap Batch.

I am thankful for many things.  First and foremost, my faith, my family and friends, good health.  After that, at the top of my list— can you guess?  Books!

I thank God for granting me the ability to read, enjoy and share them.  I am thankful that I had parents who valued books and inspired me to love the wonders they contain.  As poet Strickland Gillilan says at the end of his popular poem, “The Reading Mother”:

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.

I am thankful to have been a child who was read to, not just occasionally but every night.  My gift to readers this Thanksgiving is from Christopher de Vinck’s powerful essay “Why I Read to My Children”:

. . . I read aloud to my children each night for reasons that go beyond Piaget, vocabulary, writing and information retrieval.  I want eight-year-old Michael to taste the chocolate as Willie Wonka guides the children on a grand tour of his factory.  I want Karen to smell the flowers Francie Nolan’s father bought for her in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  I want my children to feel the hunger Richard Wright endured in Black Boy.  I want my son David to smack his hand, someday, against Boo Radley’s house in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I want my daughter to feel the moonlight against her bare breasts as did Annie in Jamaica Kinkaid’s glorious little book Annie John.

. . . I want the water from the pump in The Miracle Worker to run against the small hands of David, Karen and Michael.  “Mrs. Keller!”  Annie Sullivan screams out with joy to Helen’s mother.  “Mrs. Keller!  Mrs. Keller!  She knows!”  Helen Keller finally learned that these funny little symbols – “A,” “B,” “C, “D” – mean words, sentences, language, life, freedom.  “She knows!”

Reading makes possible the connection between our minds and the near magical notions drawn up from our impossible hearts.  I also read to my children because I like the feel of their warmth against my arms and the sound of their quiet breaths as they listen to my voice circling around them night after night.  Reading aloud to my children every day gives them the widest entry to that place we call freedom.

Reading aloud to children begins the slow process of education that ends in parents and teachers celebrating: “They know! They know!  Their hearts and minds have made the connections.  Our children are free.  They know!”                 

(The Wall Street Journal, November 1993)

Please read to and with your loved ones.  It’s one of the best gifts you can give. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

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If you’d like further guidance and inspiration, try Mem Fox’s Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever.