Monday, October 28, 2013

The World of Reading--by our grandson, Austin DeGroot

First, I want to congratulate Lisa from Ohio, who won the drawing for the free book from Susan Sleeman! Happy reading, Lisa!

Last week's interview with Susan Sleeman was the second most popular interview since I've been doing this blog regularly. I started on March 4 of this year with the interviews, have done 16 of them (two a month) and only one netted more comments than the one last week. Thanks to all of you who came by and left your comments. Hope you will come again and keep commenting.

Here is an essay by our grandson, Austin DeGroot. He recently completed his service in the U.S, Navy and enrolled in Texas University in Austin, Texas. Yes, Austin moved to Austin. One of the first assignments in his English class netted a great comment by his teacher, when she recognized his literary prowess. It is about how he learned to read as a four-year-old child, listening to his mother home-school his older brother, and how he came to discover the world of books. He is still an avid reader, like many in our family.


Surrounded by LEGOs and legs below the table where my mother was slowly leading my older brother from A to Z, I was doing more than building castles and starships; I was listening. Through the thick mahogany desk that served as our home classroom, I was learning. Aided by some discarded alphabet pages I’d found in one of my many forbidden “treasure hunts” in the trash, strange shapes became letters, those letters became words, and words became sentences. Soon my toys were collecting dust in the corner and with a book in my hand I built castles and starships in my mind.   (in the picture, Austin is about 3, but he already loved books.) 

Reading excited me in a way that the little corner of the world I knew never had. I was always being told to hurry up, to slow down, to come here or go there. I felt constantly rushed along by my mother, whose time was ever stretched by her four very young children and our soccer practices, doctor’s appointments, and annoying need to be clothed and fed. No doubt a few of her gray hairs owe me some credit, but most often I just wanted to be be away from the hustle and bustle and quietly explore new frontiers on the page. (in the picture, Austin's mother is instilling a love of reading into her two oldest boys. Notice the other book stuck in the crack of the couch. Both Austin's parents loved to read. Books were everywhere in their house.)

Before long, inspiration struck. I began to run wild with stories. I’d share them with anyone who would listen, regaling them with imagined adventures alongside my monkey companion, Abu. We raided ancient hidden temples, battled ghostly pirates, rescued hapless villagers from dragons, and embarked on countless other death-defying experiences. As soon as I was able, I laboriously filled notebook after notebook with my stories. They were by no means good and hardly original, but they were mine and I treasured them. As I grew older, more and more diversions clamored for my attention. Friends, school, video games, and girls pushed my writing back to the occasional scribbling. Still, reading and writing are such a strong part of who I am that without them, I would be unrecognizable. Reading expanded my mind and gave me big dreams. Writing let me express those dreams to the world. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where I not only had the tools to do this, but I had the encouragement and affirmation of my family.
Sadly, my privileged upbringing was just that; privileged. Children everywhere grow up with none of the opportunities that I had. Born to illiterate, overworked, or just plain apathetic parents, these kids never have the chance to experience the magical worlds waiting between the covers of books. Illiterate children won’t be able to experience the magic that this world has to offer either; two-thirds of students in the fourth grade who cannot read proficiently will end up in prison or on welfare. (In this picture, Austin was 8 or 9. Notice what a thick book he is reading.)

Eighty-five percent of juvenile offenders have reading problems. Here in Austin, the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas is working to give every child access to the tools they need to read and succeed. Learning to read and write proficiently is one of the single most important things a child can learn in order to improve themselves and I strongly believe in supporting any effort to help build those skills.

Here is Austin today, all grown up. I can't wait to read his first published book!

What do you think of Austin's essay?

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