Dear Atticus, the power of stories

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Dear Atticus,

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with words. They come together to tell a story, they play and bounce off one another in poetry and in song. When the tone and the pacing and the detail are just right, something magical happens. I have been reading since I was very young, but I still enjoy being read to and reading aloud. I like opening a book and seeing my rowdiest kindergarten students riveted to the story. My mom would pass on her favorite poems and songs to us in the car, while pushing us on the swing, or whenever else it seemed appropriate. I have fond memories of trading off duties as your dad and I read the seven Harry Potter books aloud . . . on the couch, in bed, on the porch. Even, during an especially tense scene, on the beach in Canada. The very first book that was read aloud to you was probably Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which your dad and I read (and listened to) this summer for our anniversary. But the first one that was read especially for you was Winnie-the-Pooh, which your dad has read out loud this fall. He was reading to you, but he had never read it before, so he just couldn’t help laughing sometimes. (He also read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to the two of us, and we learned while reading it that I have a bit of a phobia about stories where toys aren’t taken care of. Your dad will be sharing that one with you without me, because I will be in the other room hyperventilating.)

I cannot remember learning how to read. I can only remember books as my friends and companions, from I am a Bunny and A Child’s First Book of Poems to Arthur’s Halloween and Horton Hatches the Egg. Charlotte and the Murrays and Anne and Ramona Quimby and the Pevensies and Peter and Fudge and Jess and Leslie and Bilbo and Frodo and Taran and Eilonwy . . . these were the characters who surrounded me and kept me company. We moved a few times, and things changed and I wasn’t necessarily great at making friends. These characters were the constants in my life.

Sharing a book with someone is one of the most personal things I know how to do. People ask me all the time for book recommendations, and I have a hard time actually recommending things, because it’s as if I am exposing a bit of my soul. But I must confess that I cannot wait to read with you, to share the stories of Charlie Bucket finding the golden ticket and Harry getting his letter to Hogwarts and Turtle as she puts together the clues of Sam Westing’s death. I have centered my life and my career around them because I believe that books and stories can actually change your life. They have changed my life. Books have taught me things, taken me on adventures, and introduced me to new people. There is more to a book than the words between the front and back cover, if only we will be brave enough to let the encounter change us.

I have tried to tell you a little bit about the importance of faith in my life, and what you should know is that I believe that hearing and telling stories are an integral part of a life that includes faith. You can see that in the Bible, when Jesus teaches (or tries to teach) his followers by using stories. I like what Sara Zarr says, that it takes imagination to believe in a God we cannot see or touch or hear. For me, stories have been the gateway to a deeper understanding of biblical truths like compassion, sacrifice, and forgiveness. They teach us how to ask questions and how to understand ideas that are bigger than we are. Those are important components of a vibrant faith.

I hope that even if you are not someone who loves reading like I do (and, let’s face it, many people don’t), that you will enjoy the act of sharing stories. There are a lot that we can’t wait to read with you, and we hope that you will introduce us to new ones, too. When it comes to books, our deepest desire is that they are part of a bigger conversation between the three of us, one that allows all of us to learn together.

Love,
Mama

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