Today’s global observance of International Literacy Day brings to my mind a couple of vignettes from my childhood…

My parents had tucked me into bed, switched the ceiling light off and said good night as they closed the door to my room. I waited quietly in the darkness for a few minutes to make sure they thought I was asleep. With my parents chatting in the kitchen while finishing up their evening chores  I was “safe” to begin my nightly adventure.  I reached for my bedside table light and put it under my quilt. Then came the tricky part–turning on the switch that always seemed to click too loudly and risked arousing my parents’ curiosity. As soon as I passed that hurdle undetected I was free to begin my nightly reading adventure under the covers with Nancy Drew

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I grew up in Ville St. Michel, a primarily French Canadian working class neighborhood in Montreal which attracted a large Italian immigrant population supplemented with a smattering of Poles, Ukranians and other displaced Europeans from World War 2. (Low rents and cheap housing have continued to draw more recent waves of immigration from Haiti, Asia and the Arab world to my former neighborhood). My father spoke English as a second language but he enjoyed reading The Montreal Gazette in addition to the Canadian Lithuanian weekly paper. Although he only had a grade school education and was limited in how much help he could offer me with my school work he knew the value of books and reading to open a child’s mind to a larger world. And so one Saturday a month–regardless of how tired he was from the rigours of his blue collar job–he would drive me for a visit to the regional library.

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Bibliotheque de La Petite Patrie

Photo credit: By Jeangagnon (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The high ceilings, big spaces and old wood staircases provided a rich and welcome contrast to the claustrophobic dimensions of our row house. Delighted,  I would scurry to the children’s section, plop myself on the floor and comb the low bookshelves searching for books from my favorite non-fiction geography series–similar to the ones here. I was always sad to leave, but somewhat comforted by my armful of books, knowing that between their covers were words and images that would take me to far away places and lands until my next visit.  

image from http://www.facebook.com/arrondissementRPP

 

Dear readers, how has reading influenced your life or the life of someone you know? 

Try out some of these activities to celebrate International Literacy Day!

 

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