In yesterday’s post, Lee Barwood talked about the world of the mind and of the heart that Andre Norton helped her build. My post is my homage to the people who help other people become builders of worlds by handing them the bricks—books.
My father and grandfather were the first two readers I knew. Every time we got ready to visit my grandparents, my father would load several commissary boxes (we were military) brimming with paperbacks into the back of our station wagon. I remember the long drive, and then the car doors opening and the boxes carried out like tribute for Pharoah. For his part, my grandfather would have been stockpiling his reads for my dad, and those would summarily take the place of the commissary boxes in our car.
Then they would count coup, singling out especially good reads, examining covers, flipping through the pages. I remember my father’s glee—his real joy—when he would unpack his new treasures upon our return home.
I don’t even know what genre the two of them read. I just know that they loved books. My dad read all the time. He read every morning while he was brushing his teeth. He read during my ballet classes.
And he would read to me. When he read Winnie the Pooh I would shout “Capital letters! Capital letters!” when Pooh talked about A Very Good Idea. We read Shakespeare plays together before we saw them at the re-creation of the Old Globe here in San Diego. We were always reading, too.
My elementary school teachers read to me. I remember sitting in a small, bright room listening to the Chronicles of Narnia. My kid’s teachers read to her, too. Mrs. Romeo had a big rocking chair she would sit in while she read. One of Mrs. Miller’s grateful room parents built her a reading loft that she filled with books. Kids were welcome to escape to the loft any time they wanted. The most special days were the ones when I would take my daughter to school in her pajamas with a pillow, a blanket, and stack of book. The kids would read all day, take naps, and daydream.
When my daughter joined Miss Anne’s reading club at the library, she got a silver star beside her name on the reading board for every book she read. But when someone read to her, the star was gold. Now, her Spanish class is reading La Casa en Mango Street. A few weeks ago she walked into my bedroom, said, “Life-changer,” and tossed The Language of Goldfish onto my bed.
Yes, authors write the books that bring worlds into our heads. But someone has to put those books into our hands first. Librarians, booksellers, dads and grandpas. Last year, San Diego’s “The Big Read” presented thirty events centered on Edgar Allan Poe in thirty days. And speaking tales of the grotesque and arabesque, Neil Gaiman has instituted All Hallow’s Read, when you give a scary book to someone during the Halloween season. World Book Night is coming in April, when volunteers (I’ve applied to be one) will give away twenty copies of a book to people who don’t have much access to books, or have books of their own.
In the last years of her life, my aunt became a literacy volunteer and had her students read Regency romance novels. Before I would go visit her, I would scour the local used bookstores for Regencies and bring them to her in shopping bags. Her excitement reminded me of my father, who was her brother, and my grandfather, who was her father. Love of books, having books, reading—is repeated through the generations when kids see adults reading, see them loving books, see books around.
What I love about the Andre Norton Award is that it calls attention to books. It’s wonderful for authors to be praised and lauded (I like getting awards too!) but an equally important function of the award is that it serves as a form of outreach. It’s a way for SFWA to say, “Hey, here’s a book you might like.”
And that’s another brick in the world of the heart and the mind.
Nancy Holder is the New York Times bestselling author of the young adult dark fantasy series Wicked. She has written other YA fantasy series including Crusade and The Wolf Springs Chronicles. This year she received a young adult Pioneer Award from Romantic Times. Two of her novels are eligible for the Andre Norton this year: Vanquished, published by Simon Pulse; and Hot Blooded: The Wolf Springs Chronicles, published by Doubleday Children’s UK.