“Children who read become adults who lead.”
Helen Ruffin, retired school librarian
I first saw this quote on the back of some t-shirts at a quiz bowl competition our son participated in a few weeks ago. The kids at the competition have all read award-winning children’s books and go head-to-head answering questions about the books. Questions can range from “Who is the author?” or “Name four of the charms on Lulu’s bracelet” to “On what date did ______ happen in the story?” In other words, the kids can be asked a question about anything in any of the 18 books they’ve read, no matter how big or small the fact might seem. That’s a lot of information to absorb, and believe me when I say competitions can be fierce (and stressful!).
It’s called the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl, and started when a school librarian (Helen Ruffin) wanted to encourage the kids at her school to read more, and to read better books. She started a competition where the kids would be asked questions about things from the previous year’s Georgia Book Award recipients. What began in her school has spread throughout Georgia and now has four levels of competition that end with state finals at the University of Georgia during a children’s literature conference. Teams from elementary, middle, and high schools participate.
Hearing how the competition has grown just reminds me — again! — how much difference a single person can make. Helen Ruffin cared about the kids at her school and wanted to find a fun way to encourage them to read good books in a variety of genres. I doubt she ever thought the concept would go beyond her school or county, let alone across the state.
But that’s what can happen when we open ourselves to new ideas and are willing to encourage others — we never know where it might lead. So what does that thought (and our quote for today) have to do with writing? Instilling a love for books usually starts in childhood and follows a person throughout his or her life. But — children can’t read and learn and explore new worlds through words if we don’t have people who will write their stories.
Today I salute all those writers who have a heart for telling stories to children, all those editors who help make the stories even better, and all those publishers who continue printing the books — and all those parents who encourage their children to read. It truly is a gift that lasts for generations.