The power of stories to bring us together

Gloria Houston, author of The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree.
Gloria Houston, author of The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree.

From Mark I. West, Professor of English and Chair, Department of English, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, in response to “Recalling celebrated children’s author” (March 24):

I read with pleasure Pam Kelley’s touching tribute to Gloria Houston’s life and career as a children’s author. I have been teaching courses on children’s literature at UNC Charlotte for over 30 years. In my view, Houston was one of our state’s very best children’s authors.

Like Kelley, I especially like Houston’s picture book “The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree.” This heartfelt story perfectly captures a special moment in the life of a North Carolina family during the First World War.

In her article, however, Kelley also discusses how the family in Houston’s picture book and Kelley’s own family have become entwined over the years. Kelley poignantly recalls the many times she read this story aloud to her own children, and she recounts how the sharing of this story has become a treasured tradition in her family.

As Kelley’s article makes clear, when we read books aloud to children and share stories with family members, we create connections that tie us together. Throughout my childhood, my father read aloud to my siblings and me nearly every night after we finished our homework. Each Christmas he would read Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” and to this day the characters in Dickens’s story seem like family members to me.

While my father was still alive, we often talked about the books he read to us so many years ago. These memories have never faded for me. I am sure they are among the main reasons I became an English professor.

When my wife and I became parents, we regularly read aloud to our son. As he was growing up, we always read the latest Harry Potter book aloud as a family. These books became so integral to our family activities and conversations that we started using our own form of Harry Potter shorthand when talking about people and places.

Our son is an adult now, but he still likes Harry Potter. This past Christmas, he carved me my own Harry Potteresque wand, and I always keep it on my desk.

For me, this wand reflects our family tradition of sharing stories. Literacy is not just about decoding the written word. Literacy is also about developing an appreciation of literature. Literacy is about embracing a shared culture. Literacy is about the pleasures of belonging to storied families.