I remember vividly my first love, The Moon of Three Rings by Andre Norton. The book was on display at the top of a bookcase at my local library. I was already a fan of Saturn, and here was a beautifully colored drawing of a moon with rings.
Yes, I took home a book because of its cover.
I began reading. The main character was quickly turned into a cat-like creature. This was my secret dream, to become a cat. I talked to cats nonstop and believed that they understood me. Here, finally, was an adventure ready-made for me.
Up until that moment I still didn't see what all the "reading" fuss was about.
I had read other books, of course. I wept my way through the ending of Charlotte's Web, so hysterical that my mother had to come to class to comfort me. Nancy Drew was insipid. Dr. Seuss scared the bejeezus out of me so badly that I refused to touch picture books.
The Moon of Three Rings turned me into an avid reader. My entire allowance, which I earned helping at the family business after school, was now spent on the Scholastic book order.
It only takes one book to make a life-long reader.
When you become a reader you travel to other planets and magical worlds. You also become a young girl hiding from the nazi's, a boy raised by dogs, an artist cutting off his ear, a soldier who forgets for one moment that he is at war and raises his head to look at a beautiful bird. You live other lives. Even cat lives.
Your world expands.
When someone tells me they don't read, it's the same as telling me they don't breathe.
So what is it like to grow up without books? When I visit elementary schools I already see a few children, some as young as 8 or 9, who have an empty look in their eyes like nothing in that school is for them. Not the colorful drawings on the walls. Not the laughing kids. Especially not the books in the library. Somehow, they have been shut out of the stories that can buoy a life.
I recently asked a group of teachers to imagine growing up in a world where libraries were full of books, but only books about football. Football being played by aliens in science fiction stories, historical novels featuring early attempts by the Greeks to develop football, etc.
I asked how many of them would have become avid readers.
Imagine how hard it is to read when there aren't any books that touch your heart. The reason we need diverse books is to help all young readers find the one book that will set them free.