Wednesday, December 15, 2010

BOOKS FOR TOTS (instead of toys)

BETWEEN ABOUT THE END OF OCTOBER AND CHRISTMAS, we are often asked to contribute to Toys for Tots drives. The California Highway Patrol sponsors one. Your local Chevy dealer sponsors one. Even big, bad motorcycle groups conduct toy runs. The results are lots of – but never enough – trinkets for the less well off. Ever wonder just what becomes of those gifts, when the battery dies, when the flimsy plastic fitting wears out, or just when the excitement of its newness runs its course? Household clutter comes to mind, as does the word landfill.

With that bias in mind, the Church of the Open Road offers a modest proposal: It is a verifiable fact that young readers are more successful than non-readers. School folks know that in impoverished areas, students struggle with literacy more frequently than kids from well-off communities. Since early exposure to literature is a key to success as a reader and therefore, success in school, it follows that a book is a gift with far more potential for good than almost anything else one can receive.

So, what if, instead of a plastic toy requiring a battery or, perhaps, what if along with a plastic toy requiring a battery, the less-well-off in our communities received a brand new book? (And idea doesn’t just have to go for kids.) Here are a few thoughts on the benefits:

  • Reading is an act of creativity. While a battery-powered toy prompts the child to watch what the toy does, a book prompts the child to create images based upon the stimulus of print. Unlike television or film or any of a number of other popular distractions, while a book is a creation of the author, the reader engages in a creative act by reading.
  • Reading takes the reader places. While a computer game allows the player to travel through fantastic animation (and vanquish all who get in the way), a book can take a child around the world allowing him or her exposure to cultures and climates far different (and perhaps more fantastic) than their own.
  • A good book never wears out. With a battery-powered toy, once the battery dies (on or about December 27th) unless the battery is replaced, the toy becomes less toy-like. A book can be opened and closed time and time again. It can be read and reread, sometimes the second reading reveals more than the first.
  • Literature is easily recyclable. When the joystick busts or the player has finally outsmarted the game creator, the product is thrown away. It goes to the dump or, if we’re lucky, goes to a place where its toxins and heavy metals can be safely recovered. A book is recycled simply by handing it to the next person.

MOST FOLKS on the Church of the Open Road's shopping list, by now, know they’ll be receiving a bag o’ books for Christmas. Each of the books will be a copy of something I’ve read and with which I’ve been particularly impressed over the past 12 months. The collection may include some light, contemporary or classic fiction, perhaps an atlas or other resource, and, quite likely, a memoir or non-fiction work that broadened my understanding of our culture or the human condition.

The Church would like to think that each carefully selected book will be appreciated, but if not, the good news is that the book can be re-gifted to someone who may find worth or insight in the author’s work.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Think about the best half-dozen books you’ve read over the past twelve months and consider passing copies to folks on your list this holiday season.

And for the kids across town? Think about the books you loved as a child and give copies of those. Some child you’ll never meet may grab your insight and your love of literature. And maybe they’ll have a better chance because of it.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. BB: Good idea for Books for Tots. My books go to the library - they can sell them and raise more money. Favorite book this year (although very
    sad) "A Happy Marriage" - Iglesias.

  2. CT: We often give books as gifts to our grand
    children and now great grand children as well.

  3. LB: I nearly ONLY give books as gifts. I went to my nephew's home over the Thanksgiving break, and was stunned to see literally WALLS of toys. I counted 18 pairs of plastic princess shoes in my great-niece's dress-up closet. And a grand total of 9 books. And no blocks of any kind. None! How will she and her brother learn how to make a square block "person" talk? How will they learn to make great and towering creations that topple over spectacularly? And how will they learn the magic of Make Way for Ducklings or Where the Wild Things Are? How can they possible learn their alphabet without Chicka Chicka Boom Boom? It made me sad. And resolute.

    I love your Books for Tots idea.

  4. The "Church" is concerned that we are developing into a nation of vidiots. Just a dash of "reality TV" and the "Church" realizes that television writing - as poor as it once was - is non-existent; yet, the product of this non-writing video-culture captivates the populous.

    If China or India claims the 21st century, it will not be because they have grown smarter. It will be because we have allowed ourselves to become dumber. Much dumber.

    Bottom line? Support writers - buy books.

  5. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. I LOVE this blog entry and am analyzing my books shopping list now...

  6. Hey Vicki,

    Miss seeing you a whole lot.

    - D