I’ll admit: initially, I signed up to be a mentor in the Read to a Child program so that I could reread some of my childhood favorites. I remember the characters in the worlds created by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Lois Lowry just as well as I remember the real-life kids from my neighborhood.
Reading has always been second nature to me. I taught myself how with my collection of Fisher-Price Talk-to-Me audio books. As I got older, chapter books became an addiction, my library card a prized possession. But knowing there was a child out there who might not be as enthused about reading—or who struggled to sound out those words, follow a story line, or could just use a friendly, positive role model to show him or her that books make life that much more vibrant—all of that made the decision to get involved with Read to a Child on my lunch breaks a no-brainer.
Week after week throughout the school year—over a three-year period—I read to the same little girl. We sat together in little library chairs, huddling over a title of her choosing while she picked at her tater tots and drank pink milk through two straws. I read slowly and clearly, inflecting my voice to help hold her attention.
I talked about the characters, possible motivation for their actions, what she thought might happen on the next page. She told me about her grandparents in Haiti, her orange cat, the elaborate art project she was working on at home. I reminded her to tie her shoes and wipe her hands. She drew me cards with hearts and rainbows.
Always, just as I thought she had checked out, she’d make an astute comment that reeled me back in, reminding me of the real purpose of our weekly reading time together: to connect. The books were just the backdrop.
My reading buddy graduated from the program after fourth grade. I presented her with a few more books in the Amber Brown series that we had just begun and decorated the envelope of a store-bought card with a hundred hand-drawn flowers. She made me eight—yes, eight—thank-you cards in return, each one filled with a sentiment so sweet, I could only hope she had first heard those words spoken to her.
That was a few years ago. Every now and then, when I drive by her elementary school just a quarter-mile up the road from our offices, I’ll do the math and figure out what grade she’s in these days and wonder how she’s handling all of those preteen rites of passage. If she’s still making those amazing cards. If her eating habits have improved. Like the characters in all those books I pored over as a kid, the memories of my reading buddy will forever be a part of my life story.
Holly Sivec has been a part of the Commonwealth community since 2005. She is our HR communications manager, overseeing a wide variety of in-house communications, including the contents of this blog.