The Treasure of Reading to African American Children
By Maxine Thompson

"Normal day what a treasure you are."

These words were engraved in a ceramic plaque which graced my late mother's bedroom wall, and until recently, I didn't understand what they meant.

However, after spending a "normal" vacation with my loved ones in Atlanta and Detroit, I reflected on how wonderful it is to enjoy adult children and grandchildren when times are peaceful. No one in the immediate family was in harm's way. Everyone is being blessed. My sister-in-law is moving into a newly-built house. Instead of coming home for a funeral, or a death watch, I was just home to enjoy the moment. Things are looking up. Lesson learned.

We have to treasure our moments of serenity. That's when I realized how much I treasure the gift of reading my mother handed down to me, that I handed down to my children, that I'm now handing down to my grandchildren.

Now I'd like to paraphrase this saying and add, "Reading to children, what a treasure it is."

As a motivational speaker, I often address the issue regarding the shortage of African American books for children and teenagers. We see the ramifications of this problem in many areas of Black life. Too many of our teenagers are reading books meant for adults because of the shortage of age-appropriate material. Still, too many African American teenagers are dropping out of high school because they are what I consider "under challenged and unmotivated." Illiteracy is at the root of too many social ills to be named in this article.

But my point is this. Reading is the key to building your future-particularly if you feel trapped and unable to change the circumstances of your life. There was a time when you could navigate the waters of life and be functionally illiterate, but with technology, things have changed. You can't learn many of the technical skills, which will prepare your for supporting yourself, if you can't read.

Last summer, when my then three-going-on-four-year-old grandson, Darius, visited me in California from Michigan, we developed a ritual of reading at night. I'll never forget his words, "That was a good book."

This year, when I visited him in Detroit, it was a pleasure to see the light glow in Darius's eyes as he recognized colors and numbers in a book. This was especially exciting because I saw his love for the printed word grow.

Recently, my oldest son, Maurice, age 33, told me that he hated when I took them to the library, but now he does this very same thing with his preteen children, so he's hoping the seed will be planted, as it was in his case. Now reading is one of his favorite pastimes.

So I'd like to encourage African American writers to write more culturally relevant children books and readers to support more Black children writers. As families, we can make more use of the public libraries, which are goldmines of information, as well as places to get books for children.

Most of all, as we go back to school this year, parents, please invest in reading with and to your children. You will see the return on the back end. As they say, "You pay now, (in terms of time invested with your children,) or you pay later." Just ask parents who were too busy working while their children were growing up, who now have to deal with these adult children's drama because they didn't get the lessons right the first time around.

In a life filled with unforeseen circumstances, reading can provide you with "Normal days," to treasure.

These are just some of the benefits of reading with your children:

1. Reading together builds your child's vocabulary.

2. Reading helps add to your child's imagination.

3. Reading helps create grooves in your child's brain and form memories he will later cherish from his childhood.

4. Reading together is a spiritual endeavor like writing. Who knows? You may be nurturing the mind of the next Toni Morrison.

5. Reading helps build a lifelong bond between you and your children.

Here are some books I found that are helpful for black children.

Joy! (Board book)by Joyce Carol Thomas "
Bright Eyes, Brown Skin (A Feeling Good Book) (Paperback) by Cheryl Willis Hudson, Bernette G. Ford, George Cephas Ford (Illustrator)

I Love My Hair! (Hardcover) by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, E.B. Lewis (Illustrator)
"Every night before I go to bed, Mama combs my hair..."

It's All Good Hair: The Guide to Styling and Grooming Black Children's Hair (Paperback) by Michele N-K Collison

"When my daughter Sydney was born, everybody wanted to know who she looked like..." (more)
SIPs: hair breakage, twist the hair CAPs: Relax Hair by Valerie Callender

I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla : Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World (Paperback) by Marguerite Wright

"Children don't start out as miniature adults..." (more)
SIPs: light complexioned children, healthy racial attitudes, biracial teens, ask preschoolers, positive racial attitudes (more)
CAPs: African American, Martin Luther King, San Francisco, Oprah Winfrey, Black History Month (more)

Colors Come from God Just Like Me (Hardcover) by Carolyn Forche, Forche Carolyn A., Charles Cox (Illustrator)

Maya's Locks by Norman Burton

Kiki, The School Truant by Esther Ugezene

I am Not a Problem Child, by Marquise Cormier

Just Imagine This…A World without the contributions of Black People, and others by Tamara Butler.