Let Santa put a 'book on every bed'

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Dear Readers: This is one of my favorite days of the year because this is the day I get to step out from behind my desk and advocate — simply and sincerely — for literacy. I choose this particular day because it is my mother's birthday. She was a reader, writer and teacher, and I can think of no better way to honor her memory than to ask other readers to participate in the "Book on Every Bed" project.

Many of us are spending a lot of time this week scurrying around, looking for the "perfect" gift to bestow on family members and friends. And yet, looking back through our own holiday memories, we realize that the best gifts arrive in the form of traditions or objects that we can look at and know exactly where they came from. We invest these simple possessions with meaning and memories.

This is the fourth anniversary of my campaign to share a gift-giving tradition that is straightforward and inexpensive, and that reaps boundless and lifelong rewards.

A "borrowed" concept: Like all my best ideas, this was stolen (borrowed, really). Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough (author of the books "Truman," "John Adams" and many others) once related in an interview that every Christmas morning during his childhood, he and his siblings awoke to the gift of a wrapped book on their beds, delivered in the night by Santa.

Thus was born "A Book on Every Bed."

I have teamed with The Family Reading Partnership (familyreading.org) in my hometown of Ithaca, N.Y. With its help, this simple concept has spread through libraries, schools, churches and bookstores, across this country and beyond.

Santa does the work: Here's how it works: You take a book (it can be new or a favorite from your own childhood).

You wrap it. On Christmas Eve (or whatever holiday you celebrate), you leave the book in a place where Santa is likely to find it. When I communicated with David McCullough about borrowing his idea, he was very clear: Santa handles the delivery and places the book on a child's bed.

In the morning, the children in your household will awaken to a gift that will far outlast any toy: a guided path into the world of stories.

I know this for sure: No matter who you are or what you do, reading will unlock untold opportunities, mysteries and passions.

When you have a book and the ability to tell, read and share stories, you gain access to the universe of others' imaginations. And avid readers know that if you have a book, you are never alone.

We may have already exceeded our original goal for 1 million children to wake up on Christmas morning to a wrapped book, and so this year's appeal will be for parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians to continue to spread this concept in their families and communities.

Throughout the year, I enjoy hearing from people who tell me how they have adopted this project and adapted it to the needs of their community. Thank you all. Keep it going.

To view photos and a video of me with my favorite young reader and to share your stories and photos, check familyreading.org — or my Facebook page: facebook.com/Adickinsondaily.

Dear Amy: I am a long-term overseas tourist to the Bay area in California, and I have been reading your column ever since I arrived.

Through the questions and your answers, I have learned a lot about American culture. It helps me to read about some of the problems that people bring to you. And your answers are very practical.

Reading your column has also helped me with my English. It's more entertaining than a language dictionary.

— Tourist

Dear Tourist: This is very thoughtful. I enjoy it when non-native English speakers report that they use this column to learn American language and customs. Teachers tell me it is a favorite in some English as a Second Language classes.

And while I would hate for anyone to think that all Americans have the problems relayed in this column, I do believe that many of these issues are relatable — and the problems that aren't quite so common are often entertaining.

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