Times Past

These SLO County Girls Scouts know the importance of reading — and they want to share it

Local Girl Scouts (from left) Aggie Moody, Katie Geise, Katya Harris and Tess Bolster are collecting books for underserved young people in San Luis Obispo County during March.
Local Girl Scouts (from left) Aggie Moody, Katie Geise, Katya Harris and Tess Bolster are collecting books for underserved young people in San Luis Obispo County during March.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “My best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”

He’d love Girl Scout cadets Tess Bolster White, Katie Geise, Katya Harris and Aggie Moody, avid readers all, who are collecting books for underserved young people in the county during March.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor likes to tell young people, “Remember that no one succeeds alone.”

Besides her mother and a teacher’s guidance, intrepid book characters like teenage Nancy Drew guided her.

Sotomayor’s “Turning Pages: My Life Story” ought to be required reading for third to sixth graders. Living in a public housing project, she was lucky to have a mother who worked during the day and studied late at night to become a nurse — and made monthly payments on a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which young Sonia and her younger brother devoured.

Her beloved father’s death from alcoholism led Sonia to haunt the nearby Parkchester Library. It “was my harbor, and books were little boats that helped me escape sadness at home,” she said.

A recent study, published in the journal Social Science Research, analyzed data from more than 160,000 adults from 31 different countries and found an absolute correlation between the number of books in a home and literacy, mathematical competency, technology and communication skills in later life.

Kids in a house with at least 80 books have a better chance in life.

Malala Yousafzai, the young activist from Pakistan, grew up in a house with lots of books and publicly challenged religious extremists who wanted to close schools for girls.

Frederick Douglass, who eventually helped Lincoln win the Civil War, was taught the alphabet by Mrs. Auld, the wife of his master. When Mr. Auld found out, lessons with the young slave ended. Nevertheless, Douglass was determined to learn to read and write, even if it meant risking being sent to the dreaded “slave breaker.”

In the book “Lincoln and His Boys,” Rosemary Wells has Abe’s oldest son, Bob, telling his younger brothers, “when father was a boy, he lived in a poky little shack in the middle of a wild forest. Father’s own pappy was a sometime drunk… Mostly out of work. He beat Father for reading too many books.”

The wonder of Lincoln is that he learned from his father’s example and offered love and roughhousing fun to his sons, along with compassion for a divided nation.

Chaim Weizman, a great biochemist and founder of Israel, was forbidden to read secular books as a boy. Students were expected to chant verses from the Torah and learn the Talmud. So, he and his friends “chanted” the then new Periodic Table of the Elements and molecular compounds to learn chemistry.

When Liz volunteered at Hawthorne Elementary School in SLO, she got an education!

Some kids hadn’t even been to Morro Bay. Some parents were working two to three jobs.

Some parents didn’t have official things like rent receipts and utility bills showing their addresses. So, unless the parents fudged their information (and teachers “approved it”), their children often couldn’t get library cards.

We are happy to report that in 2019, all children in Shandon are now able to get library cards.

That’s why, by 2008, Liz and an army of book angels like Linda, Craig, Steven and Sharon Smith, began home book parties. Kids were encouraged to grow their own libraries. Today, Casa de Children’s Books provides books kids want to read and keep to classes from Guadalupe to San Ardo in the north.

The Girl Scouts are the newest book angels. They set up bins — thanks, Miner’s Hardware! — at San Luis Obispo schools, Rabobank and Paul’s Dry Cleaners, gathering donated children’s and teen books during March. SLO Library’s teen section, as well as Casa de Children’s Books, benefit.

This column is by Liz and Dan Krieger. Liz is a retired children’s librarian, and Dan is Professor of History, Emeritus at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. He is past President of the California Mission Studies Association, now part of the California Missions Foundation. He can be reached at slohistory@gmail.com.
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