One thing I know for true, the power of the story can change everything. I have said this before and I will say it again, read aloud to your babies, your children, your friends, and family, to strangers. Reading aloud is telling a story. Yesterday Pulpwood Queen author, Kerry Madden-Lunsford shared a feature as she wrote about this, sharing: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-madden-lunsford-reading-prison-20180415-story.html. Read all about it!
Years ago when I was a children’s bookseller and buyer, I was asked by the Junior League of Longview if I would go and read to the juvenile detention center. “Yes,” was my replay as I love to read aloud and talk about a captive audience! I truly had no idea. I went through with the armed guard, not one but three gates to be left in a room with 16 young men who I had no idea for what they were in jail. They sat politely and I began to tell them about Gary Paulsen, an author who I call, friend, who had a pretty turbulent upbringing. Raised by two warring parents who were alcoholics, he had quite a time of it. But in order to have some cash money, he took a paper route and on a cold wintry day stepped into a library to warm his freezing hands and feet. The kindly librarian asked him if he wanted to check out a book. “How much?” he cried back. “Why it’s free, all you have to do is fill out a library card.” Gary was mystified anything could ever be free, he wondered what the catch? But he filled out the card anyway and warmed up. She helped him check out a western, probably a Zane Grey and he left. It took Gary two weeks to read that book but he took it back and asked for another one, then another, and another. After a while the kindly library suggested a children’s classic, perhaps “Treasure Island” or “Robinson Crusoe”, Gary Paulsen was hooked. He began to live at that library. The reaing of those books changed the trajectory of his life. He has often said, “Books saved me.” and have said that too. He now is one of the most celebrated and award-winning children’s authors ever. But that is not the end of the story at all, read “Hatchet” if you want to read a real pageturner.
You see I read his books too, but I did not know his backstory so I told the boys about reading his books then eventually meeting him. But more importantly, I began to read “Hatchet” aloud to them. They sat politely and eventually leaning forward in their seats. At the end I asked if they had any questions, hands flew up in the air. Yes, they did, a lot of them. We had a wonderful time talking about Gary Paulsen, his books, and his life as an adventurer.
I went every month and every single time, they were as polite as could be but I wondered about these boys Who were they and why were they here? Two boys stood out to me, one who was a head shorter than me, I’m 5′ 8″, had five tears tattooed down his left cheek. The only white boy in the group looked about twelve, so sweet and slight, what in the world could he have ever done? So I asked the guards as they escorted me out of the jail cells, “Why are these boys here?” I was shocked at their answer. Every single one of them was in for murder, murder folks! I could not believe it. “What about the boys tattoed tears?” The tears represented all the people he has killed as a member of a gang. “What about the little white boy, he’s so young?” They told me he was the worst one of all. I could not believe what I was hearing.
The next week I was robbed at the Longview Mall at gunpoint. Two boys pulled up in a late model blue car without tags as I was about to step down from from the curb in broad daylight pulled up right beside me. I looked down and the passenger slumped in his seat as the driver, learned over and pointed a silver Glock at me and said, “Hey lady, give me all your stuff.” He couldn’t have been more than thirteen. I stood my ground and leaned down and said, “Boys, no, I worked really hard to get my family these clothes. Put that gun away, this is not right. You should know better”. They looked at me quite shocked. Nobody was as shocked as me as I had been taught in all my years of retail if robbed to give them whatever they wanted, anything to get them to leave. I began backing up until my back hit the door of Beall’s department store. As I turned to go in, I thought they were going to shoot me.
The boy put the gun down and drove away. I screamed, “Help! Help! I am being robbed.” Everybody ran from me, can you imagine as if I was the criminal. To make a long story short, these boys looked just like the ones I read to at the prison. I tried to put myself in their shoes. What would make a young boy, steal a car and rob somebody? I will never know as they never caught the boys. I never was able to discuss what happened to me with the boys at the prison as they canceled the program, stating they decided it was probably too dangerous for me to be reading with the boys alone in the room.
But what I do know, is a seed was planted those days of reading to those boys because I can remember every single person who ever read aloud to me. Every single one, mostly my teachers and later on authors. The power of the story can change lives. I pray for those boys. I know they will not forget the stories I was reading aloud to them, they hung on my every word. Kindness, love, sharing a story, that is what is going to change the world one book, one person, one story at a time.
Since then I flew to Alaska to help start a book club in the women’s prison, The Pulpwood Queens of Hiland Meadows just outside of Anchorage. The book club became so popular, my Pulpwood Queens of Anchorage, Alaska who started the program, started another one, The Paroled Pulpwood Queens of Hiland Meadows. Reading stories, sharing our stories, reading aloud that is what we do in our Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs and I challenge all my chapters to take on a literacy project. Now even our authors on board too, Pulpwood Queen Lauretta Hannon now goes and reads in the prisons. So my question to you is if you truly want to make America Great Again, read and READ ALOUD! I am working on my next book, “The Pulpwood Queen Goes Back to School” because folks, you have to educate yourself every day. You have to pay it forward. It is not up to anybody but each one of us to make America Great Again. We are the greatest country on the planet so why not do something that goes back to the beginning of time as humans. Share your story. Share the stories of others read, write, read aloud, and connect by sharing those stories.
I loved the feature that Kerry Madden Lunsford wrote as she is a leader for literacy. So proud of her and her family and all they do to promote the love of the story. They say in life nobody will really remember what you did in life but most people remember how they made you feel. That is how you are remembered. I know how I made those boys feel. I made them feel there could be hope. Please comment on your solutions too for a better tomorrow. It is time folks to make this world a better place. No better place to start then the power of the story!
Truly, Tiara Wearing and Book Sharing,
Kathy L. Murphy
Founder of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs
For membership, www.thepulpwoodqueens.com, let’s change the world through reading and sharing our stories
P.S. Two charities that I support that are all about promoting literacy are www.imaginationlibrary.com
DOLLY PARTON’S IMAGINATION LIBRARY
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a book gifting program that mails free books to children from birth to age five in participating communities within the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write Dolly started her Imagination Library in 1995 for the children within her home county. Today, her program spans four countries and mails over 1 million free books each month to children around the world.
“When I was growing up in the hills of East Tennessee, I knew my dreams would come true. I know there are children in your community with their own dreams. They dream of becoming a doctor or an inventor or a minister. Who knows, maybe there is a little girl whose dream is to be a writer and singer.
The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.”
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