“The Love of Books and Reading,” July 20, 2021

Long before they learn to read, children need to be taught to love reading and books. They need to hold them in their chubby hands. Turn the pages one by one. Point to each word as it’s read aloud. Marvel at every illustration. And maybe chew a bit on the cover.

What else are books for, if not to be “devoured” by readers of every age, young and old alike?

My parents divorced when I was 2, and my mother worked long hours as a waitress, leaving her little money or time to spend on “luxuries” like books.

Lucky for me, I was doted on by two of the best grandmothers who ever dipped snuff.

Make no mistake. Doting is different from spoiling. Spoiling spoils. Doting heals. My grandmothers taught me all sorts of things, but mostly they showed me how to be a good, doting grandmother, the kind I hope that I’ve become.

My mother’s mother taught me how to tell a story that makes people want to sit up and listen; feed a houseful of family without going broke; and cheat at cards without getting caught.

My dad’s mother taught me how to love mountains and songbirds and autumn leaves and a big hunk of buttered cornbread; how to wade across a swollen creek without falling in; how to love books and reading and best of all, how to read on my own, before I started school.

I wish you could’ve seen my teacher’s eyes the first day of first grade (we didn’t have kindergarten back then) when she realized I could read almost as well as she could teach.

Children need to feel good at something. I came from people who worked hard, but had little. I wore secondhand shoes, often had no money to buy lunch, and never felt pretty. But thanks to my grandmother, I could read like a house on fire.

In third grade, my teacher asked me to represent our class in the school’s reading contest. She gave me a book to practice for the competition. It was “Blueberries for Sal,” by Robert McCloskey, a story about a little girl who goes berry picking with her mama and meets a mama bear and her cub.

I learned it by heart. The night of the contest, I took a deep breath and looked out on a great assembly of parents, teachers and total strangers. Then I read, “One day, Little Sal went with her mother to Blueberry Hill….”

I won that contest. But more important, I discovered how it felt to reach out with words and hold a roomful of people in the palm of my hand.

My grandson, Wiley, is 7 years old. He takes turns with his siblings and cousins sleeping over at our house. Every time it’s his turn, he always asks me to read “Blueberries for Sal.” Hearing him laugh his sweet laugh in all the right places is even better than reading to a whole roomful of people.

I wish you could hear him.

The last time he was here, he asked to take “Blueberries for Sal” home with him. He has tons of books at his house. I wanted this one to be special. So I said, “I think I’d like to keep it here for us to read together.”

He seemed to understand. But after he left, I thought about it some more. Since the pandemic, my husband has read most every day over the phone to his granddaughter, who lives too far away to visit often. Reading has created a bond between them that they’ll never forget—not what they read, but the time they’ve spent reading together.

“Blueberries for Sal” will always be special to Wiley and me for the memories it holds for us, no matter whose bookshelf it sits on. So I bought a copy for Wiley’s house, and will keep one here for when he visits.

Children need books to treasure, to read on their own and with someone they love, as a way to understand themselves, each other and the world.

Few gifts mean more to a child than a good book and a doting grandparent who’ll gladly take the time to read it together.


  1. Roxann Moody says

    I was “doted on by the best grandmothers, too. One who dipped snuff and one who did not. Your words in this column, like most take me down memory lane.

  2. Richard Kellogg says

    Sharon, your eloquent vignette about the importance of reading to our children and grandchildren took me back down memory lane. When my daughter Carolyn was about three years old, she insisted that I read the same book to her night after night. Needless to say, I soon became weary of reading about Raggedy Ann and Andy.
    On one magical night, she suddenly took the book from my hands and proclaimed, “Papa, I can read it myself.” She then recited the entire story to me almost word-by-word. To my amazement, Carolyn had memorized the story long before she was able to read it by herself. The ability of young children to absorb and retain knowledge is nothing short of miraculous.
    Now that you are a successful novelist, it may be time to consider penning a children’s book for your grandchildren. I know many of your readers would soon form a queue to obtain their own copies of such a book. Yes, you do have miles to go before you sleep. Keep writing.

  3. Yes. I have so many comments that come to mind. My introduction to Blueberries for Sal was on the first day I met my husband’s family. We had driven from Virginia to Minnesota and arrived so late/early that nearly all his siblings were asleep. But bright and early in the morning, I heard the tiny footsteps and “quiet” excited whispers voices of his little siblings outside the door of the room where I was sleeping on a top bunk. Then I saw a curly blond head peep up over the side of my bed, and 6-year-old Abraham climbs into the bed with Blueberries for Sal (looking so much like Sal). His first words to me were, “Will you read this to me?”

    My favorite thing to do with my children is to read aloud. We homeschool, and it my favorite part of the day. We have so many lovely shared memories. Also, one of my favorite memories of my mother is that she would keep books by her chair so that when my little kids learned how to use the phone to call her, she would have something handy to read. I loved that, and I am glad some of them will have those memories of her.

    Thank you so much for this article.

  4. CHope Hall says

    Reading books with the grandkids is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Books bring us closer together and are always special friends.

  5. Kate Sciacca says

    What wonderful memories your sweet grandkids will have — they are truly blessed. Definitely the best gift we can give people is our time… and our undivided attention. The second best is a trip to Baskin-Robins 😉😉

  6. Brenda Chiu says

    Reading your stories are so enjoyable. I appreciate!

  7. Mary Clare Speckner says

    “Blueberries for Sal” – one of my favorite books!

  8. I always love your work, but this particularly one really touched my heart. I live in Florida and I’m a retired school librarian. One set of preschool grandkids live in New York and the others live in California. I read to the kids morning or evening each day and am so grateful for Zoom and FaceTime that allows me to show them pictures and fall in love with books, as their parents did many years ago. Thank you for sharing your love of words with your family and with your readers.

  9. Donna Burkdoll says

    Sharon, my daughter announced her pregnancy at Christmas 2008, I bought a book each month & sent it to my sweet little one. When Liam was born, I continued to send each month him a book.(they live in Seattle & me in Indiana) His sister, Stella came along in 2012, I had sent her a book each month of her M0mmas’s pregnancy. So I have sent 2 books a month since 2012. Liam will be 12 in August & Stella 9 in October. Lots of books & love of reading. This Grammy understands!

  10. Yes, yes, yes encourage reading early and often. I just gave my 4 month old great-granddaughter several booksto enjoy with her parents help. I am sending several books to my Florida grandsons tomorrow. I love reading and promote Literacy here in my home state of WV. Thank you for your reading encouragement!

  11. Peggy Paulin says

    I love reading _ to myself AND to my grandkids! I plan to check out Blueberries for Sal. One of my favorite books is a Halloween book, Room on the Broom. It is so fun to read!

Speak Your Mind