May 2011

The joy of sharing books

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Alice Ozma grew up with a single father who was a dedicated elementary school librarian. Even her two middle names, under which she writes, testify to a love of children’s literature. So it wasn’t out of character when the two decided to formalize their nightly reading sessions into an attempt at reading aloud for 100 consecutive nights. When that was handily completed, “The Streak” grew . . . and grew . . . and eventually continued for eight years, until Ozma started college. The Reading Promise is a memoir woven from the stories they shared.

Some of the book’s funniest moments stem from the pair’s commitment to get their reading session in by midnight: Ozma’s father might have to pull her from a late theater rehearsal and recite from Harry Potter by streetlight, or barely whisper when he had laryngitis. It’s both funny and touching when he tries to protect her from a book’s frank discussion of puberty by reducing it down to “all the stuff,” having one character add, “Yes, I already know about that so we don’t need to talk about it.” Generally obedient, Ozma nevertheless sneaks into her father’s room later to read the chapter, laughing at his censorship of a completely age-appropriate and informative passage.

After Ozma leaves for college, her father suffers a setback when his school decides to eliminate its reading program and replace the library’s books with computers. He tries to keep the program in place, since it serves poor children who may struggle to attain basic literacy without it, but is overruled and ends up leaving the school—and finding a new audience as a reader in retirement homes.

The Reading Promise is a sweet tribute to a devoted single parent and a powerful reminder of the bond that shared stories can create.

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