Three ways to turn a local kid on to reading and change the world for the better

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of books lately. First it was the conversation I had with New York Times bestselling author Shaka Senghor about his discovery of literature in prison and how transformative that was for him. Then, a little bit after that, I heard local historian Matt Siegfried, standing in front of the new African American history mural in downtown Ypsilanti, telling the crowd about how women escaping slavery would meet at homes on South Adams Street to teach one another how to read. Then, just this past Friday, at the memorial service for Xavier Small, the eighth grader who recently fell to his death from the roof of Clementine’s school, I had the opportunity to sit and listen as speaker after speaker took the stage and noted what a voracious reader this remarkable young man was, and how his love of anime in particular, had opened up new worlds and ideas to him… It just seems like, around every turn lately, I’m reminded of the incredibly influential, sometimes subversive, occasionally transformative power of books, especially when put into the hands of young people.

Well, as luck would have it, it’s just come to my attention that there are three things we can do as community members this week to ensure that more of our young people keep reading over the summer, and into the future.

1. We can tell everyone we know about the Ypsilanti District Library’s Summer Reading Program Starting this Friday at 3:00 PM outside the downtown library with a presentation by storyteller LaRon Williams, and a talk by Jazmin Truesdale, the creator of the comic e-book “The Keepers: Origins,” about ethnic and gender diversity in her superheroes, the Summer Reading Program incentivizes local kids to keep reading over the course of the summer with the promise of delicious free ice cream and prizes. Programs like this worked on me when I was a kid, and apparently they still work on kids today. So, if you have access to young people, bring them out on Friday, sign them up for the program, and get them reading.

2. We can help start the Xavier Small Anime Collection at the Ypsilanti Public Library… As I mentioned above, Xavier loved anime, and, after his death, his mother apparently decided that a fitting way to remember him would be through the creation of an anime collection at the Ypsilanti Public Library. I’m not aware of an online fundraising drive yet, but donations, as I understand it, are being accepted by Washtenaw International High School in care of Kelley Bezrutch, 510 Emetic Street, Ypsilanti, MI, 48198. [The program at Xavier’s memorial, by the way, was laid out like a comic book. The title was, “The Life and Times of Xavier Kierdan Dean Small: A memoir of a precocious teenager, est. March 1, 2002.” And it was absolutely heartbreaking.]

3. We can give to the Student Advocacy Center’s Summer Brain Boost program and put books in the hands of some of our most at-risk young people… According to research, the simple act of giving books over the summer is profound. Among other things, studies have show that giving as few as three books to a young person over the course of the summer has the potential to stop the decline in reading achievement generally seen from spring to fall, and that small boost can mean a world of difference, especially to elementary school students struggling with the likes of foster care, homelessness, mental illness, and disciplinary issues. And, with our help, the Student Advocacy Center can give hundreds of free books to students in Washtenaw, Wayne and Jackson counties. Last year, I’m told, they were able to purchase 30 books for teens in a local facility, and the impact, from what I’ve heard, was profound. And, this year, building on that success, they’d like to distribute even more to our young people in the foster care system.

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  1. site admin
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Or we could create a local Book Thing.

  2. site admin
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Or we could donate Vonnegut books to libraries.

  3. Posted June 15, 2016 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Are there organizations or tutors for children who struggle with reading? That was my kiddos’ problem–we gave them books but the books either disappeared at home (not much we can do about that) or they just could not read them. I know that listening isn’t the ultimate solution, but some kids would do well with recorded books so at least they have something.

    I swear if my young adult book gets published, I will give a ton to the SAC. (I’ve already promised hundreds of free copies of a book that hasn’t even been bought by a publisher but that’s how I roll :)).

  4. John Galt
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    What if we give them guns instead?

  5. Eel
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    If people wanted, they could also fill up the tiny free libraries around town.

  6. Frosted Flakes
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Nothing can beat a good book but a good tv show is better than a bad book. Most books are bad. I think we need to acknowledge the importance of quality in the different forms when we try to encourage kids to read more. Otherwise it is just another reason for kids to assume that adults are full of crap.

  7. Kim
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Books require imagination. They require that you bring yourself to the act of reading. It’s collaborative. Good movies are great, but they’re different. THey’re immersive experiences that you allow to happen.

  8. Frosted Flakes
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I think that is the sort of stereotyping I was warning against, Kim. Not a big deal, but their are great books, poetry and essays that require very little in the way of image-ination.

  9. kjc
    Posted June 15, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    FF you’re embarrassing yourself. again. too much tv maybe.

  10. Gillian
    Posted June 16, 2016 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Ha and here i thought “reading is good” was about the least controversial thing you could write a post about. The nice thing about books, FF, is that there are always more. If you don’t like the one you’re reading just pick up a different one. It’s as easy as changing the channel.

    Seriously though i am super proud of the library. We’re obviously involved in #1 and #2 but a lot of our staff have also personally taken the time to donate books to places like SAC and the juvenile detention center. Plus there’s a downtown little free library now! We are having a hard time keeping it full so all donations are appreciated.

  11. jcp2
    Posted June 16, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink


    I think you are conflating “reading is good” with “all books are good”. The inability to read is far more debilitating than the inability to find good books to read. Conversely, a good book can encourage people to read more, and thus develop other parts of themselves, using reading as a tool for such development. Good TV shows can also function in a similar manner, but the inability to watch TV is also not such a big deal.

  12. Frosted Flakes
    Posted June 16, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I think I am being misunderstood–and maybe it is my fault. I was just trying to stress the importance of helping youth find quality books because I beleive that young readers will be hooked for life if they read even one great book and that is obviously a good thing. Simultaneously, I was trying to say that there is some danger to send out a message that “all books are good” and “all TV is bad” as if they are in *necessary* competition with each other. I don’t think Mark was trying to say that exactly, although the photo at the top of be post, combined with his past mentions of a “no TV” contract he had his child sign might imply that Mark’s thoughts are in that direction in his thinking. I think most of realize that TV can be destructive to people’s lives. It can be like a drug…I know people that are very extreme in their opinions that TV and video games are evil–and if they lived in the tiny town in footloose they would probably be telling their kids that all music is inspired by satan…. With those people in mind, I was just trying to promote what I take to be a middle road that stresses quality.

  13. kjc
    Posted June 16, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    FF, it’s this constant maneuvering between other points of views to situate yourself in some imagined middle between extremes (and you create the extremes yourself, as in this case, where they don’t exist) and then preaching about it to others as if THEIR thinking is questionable that i find most pathological in you. i assume your identity rests on it in some way.

    there are a shitload of quality books out there and if you emphasize the value of reading to kids—the whole world emphasize the “need” for television—then they can find the books themselves. as if we have an epidemic of kids reading bad books instead of watching good tv. jesus.

  14. Frosted Flakes
    Posted June 16, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    KJC, I do think you have a point (sort of). I was not reacting to any particular thing that Mark wrote and I was not initially reacting to any of the comments –so I definitely can see how that lends itself to confusion. I am guilty of importing too much stuff and not being clear. I wasn’t trying to be critical, I was trying to add to the conversation with something I believe.

    I do not agree with you at all when you say: “if you emphasize the value of reading to kids….then they can find the books themselves.” Whose kids are these? Your kids? Count yourself as lucky if so!! You are describing an ideal situation and a certain percentage of kids do not fall into reading as easily as you suggest. Isn’t that the problem being addressed?

    With regard to your idea that I make up extreme positions so that I can situate an argument: Why would I need to do that? There are extreme positions espoused here all the time. There are also very narrow viewpoints espoused here too. I mean, aren’t you kind of guilty of that constantly? Didn’t you just spew out another narrow and extreme viewpoint just now?

  15. Maggie Gibbons
    Posted June 18, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Children’s Literacy Network just donated HUNDREDS of new books to the students at Adams STEM Academy. It was a wonderful gift and way to support all the students, many of whom chose an extra book or two to read to their younger siblings. Consider giving to CLN if you would like to help more Ypsi kids to become lifelong readers with the help of Gerald and Piggie and some very cool graphic novels.

  16. Demetrius
    Posted April 1, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    This is great:

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