Raising book lovers right from start

First Person


THE WORLD AS I KNEW IT CHANGED IN JULY 2003 when my wife and I learned that she was pregnant. We had prayed and wished and hoped (and tried) for a baby, and now those prayers were answered. Indeed, there was the joy, excitement and sheer exhilaration at the idea of bringing a new life into the world. At the same time, we were somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of reorganizing our schedules, reprioritizing our lives and navigating the fields of work and home.

As lawyers, we were used to the demands of client service and late-night motions drafting, but less familiar with the demands of diaper changing and late-night feeding and burping.

We decided to follow the Nike theme, and "Just Do It!"

During the latter part of the first trimester, I had this lingering belief that our baby was waiting for us to communicate daily with her. I started a routine of preparing my wife for bed, selecting some music for the evening and reading to my wife's stomach.

I figured that the fetus was unaware of the fact that there were such things as pictures, so I decided to read books such as Vernon Can Read by Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and A Daily Dose of the American Dream by Alan Elliott.

I actually believed that the positive and affirming sentiments and themes of these books, along with others, would assist in the brain and attitude development of our baby.

There was something empowering about the thought that we were strengthening and molding the mind of our daughter months before she took her first breath.

We also reflected on the moments in our youth when our parents read to us and introduced us to books (I still have a vivid memory of my mother taking me to the library to secure my first library card). We later learned that the creation of a routine, the repetition of voice waves and the calming rhythm of reading actually did play a role in shaping the baby's personality and stimulating the brain.

After our daughter Delaney was born in April 2004, we purchased anything and everything listed as "essential reading" for newborns and infants.

The poems, stories and characters recognized by millions around the country also became a part of her room. We joined book clubs and visited the library weekly -- all with the goal of introducing Delaney to the world of books and ideas.

Soon after the baby's library collection was more extensive than her parents', I realized that something was missing: Of the books we purchased and read regularly, very few had colors, pictures and characters that reflected the person to whom we were reading.

I further noticed that none of the books could be used as a resource for teaching African-American history in a child-friendly format. So I decided to write a book, The ABCs of Black History: A Children's Guide (Beckham House), that would teach her and others a basic skill at an early age, and tell them about African-American contributions to history.

The book is a color-rich journey through African-American history from A to Z.

I have spoken with parents across the country about the impact of the book, and realize that many, if not all parents want the same thing: books that teach, reach and inspire their children. There are thousands of books that teach and inspire; however, not all of these books are reaching African-American children.

Delaney is now 2 years old, and absolutely loves to look at books and have them read to her. She is also a big sister to Dana, who was born this year. Of course, we figured that the prenatal reading experiment worked to perfection with Delaney, so we tried it with Dana during my wife's pregnancy with her, and included Delaney in the routine.

It warmed my heart recently when I saw Delaney "reading" to Dana, and talking to her about the characters in the books that she enjoyed. My wife and I feel confident that the actions we took early on will help our daughters to become lifelong readers.

Craig A. Thompson is a partner at Venable LLP in Baltimore and a public speaker. He owns Thompson Communications LLC and can be reached at CAThompson@venable.com.

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