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Editor's Note: The Best Present

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Published August 22, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.


Cathy reading to Graham for the first time - COURTESY
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  • Cathy reading to Graham for the first time

When friends, relatives or coworkers share the happy news that they're about to welcome their first baby, I have a standard gift for them: books. My go-to titles are the ones I first read to my own kids — board books including Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers and selections from Sandra Boynton's animal-themed oeuvre such as Moo, Baa, La La La! and But Not the Hippopotamus.

I can recite most of them from memory.

I cherished the nighttime ritual of sitting on my kids' beds and reading them a story, and I think they did, too. When they were older and the books became more complex, I'd do voices for different characters.

Now teenagers, Graham and Ivy barely remember that my wife and I read to them every night for years. Our consolation: Both of them now choose and read books on their own. That was the goal, after all.

Reading isn't just a fun hobby — it opens our minds and provides an escape from reality. Books stretch our imaginations. They help us make sense of the world.

Helping kids learn to read — and learn to love reading — is one of the most important legacies we can leave them. It sets them up for success in school, and in life.

That's not just my gift-giving philosophy; it's also the message of the Waterbury-based Children's Literacy Foundation. The nonprofit works to inspire a love of reading in Vermont and New Hampshire kids ages 12 and under. For 25 years, CLiF has been giving new books to kids and partnering with schools and libraries to expand their literacy programming.

For this Fall "Back to School" issue, Seven Days staffer Gillian English sat down with CLiF's new executive director — Laura Rice, who recently took over from founder Duncan McDougall — to talk about building childrens' literacy skills.

One of the strategies Rice recommends: taking a weekly trip to the library to pick out new books. During the editing process, English revealed that she had that experience with her mom. "Every Wednesday we'd go to the library after school. I'd return the books I'd read and get new ones," she said.

English spent a lot of time at the library and even met one of her best friends at a library story hour when they were preschoolers. It had a lasting impact — she studied writing at Champlain College and writes for Seven Days' 7D Brand Studio.

Libraries have played a central role in this summer's Good Citizen Challenge. Visiting a library is the activity in the center square of the 2023 Challenge scorecard. You can see some of the work we've received here. There's still time to complete the Challenge before the September 4 deadline to be eligible for the grand prize — a free trip to Washington, D.C.

Post-Labor Day, fall family events abound. Find a few of them in Seven Days calendar writer Emily Hamilton's "Save the Dates." And during this hectic back-to-school season, consider Heather Fitzgerald's advice about giving yourself permission not to summit. It's not just applicable to hiking.

As our family calendar fills up, I'm constantly reminding myself not to be too ambitious in scheduling our remaining down time. Instead of climbing to the top of the mountain, we might be better off relaxing in the hammock — with a good book.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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