Author Archives: Trish O'Hare

An author responds…reading’s rapture!

Our beloved Carol Miller, author of Lola’s Luck: My Life Among the California Gypsies and The Church of Cheese, sent us this reflection on the written word’s impact from her childhood.

Here’s to the world of books and magazines that flew me to other worlds and opened my mind. I must have been in second grade when I found a Children’s Playmate Magazine (part of Jack and Jill, now) at the corner newsstand. I ran home to ask my mother for the 15 cents to buy it, and, feeling quite adult, returned in triumph with my purchase. The back page had a Native American paper doll that I treasured and never cut out.

We lived on the fifth floor of the hotel my father managed. The birth of my sisters, only a year apart, was keeping Mother too busy for our former shopping expeditions, or to take me to the park, or to read me stories or poems; “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” had been our favorite. Until I discovered the escape of reading to myself, I was perpetually bored and longing for adventure and stimulation. I remember watching the slow climb of the hands of the clock on the wall and the growing feeling of nausea as noon approached. Why noon? I don’t remember.

I do remember vomiting. No wonder Mother put me in first grade when I was five.

Books, still the antidote!

Thank you, Carol, for all the books you’ve read and written!  

A day of firsts!

lol-headerOur series editor, Brian Bouldrey, asks all authors aspiring to write a Gemma Open Door to remember the book that first made him or her fall in love with reading. Replicate that experience for a new reader, he coaches.

While my mother maintained I read a great deal as a little girl, the first book I remember is Charlotte’s Web, and the fact that a book—pieces of paper in my hands—could make me cry was stunning. I finished it on Sunday morning before church, propped up on elbows in my yellow bedroom. As a little kid, I was given a gift that has deepened and baffled and wounded and inspired my entire life…and put me in thrall to the sentence.

What I learned later was that I was initiated into a club that not everybody gets to join. Reading doesn’t make you a better person or a kinder person or a more interesting person, but it embroiders the heart and splashes the walls of our interior life with color and warmth.

Read a book to someone young. Out loud. And cry, for joy.

New England Library Association Rocks the Fall

lol-header Nearly 600 librarians from around the region met in Manchester last month for their annual meeting and all-over good time. The focus of the event was Generations, and, as the keynote highlighted, for the first time 4 generations of librarians are working side by side serving 5 generations of customers. The library has always been the beacon for readers of any generation, and challenges in keeping collections relevant and accessible to everyone are much on the minds of librarians.

On our minds are those folks across the generations who struggle to read at all. Libraries, and librarians, are lifelines for struggling readers, offering encouragement and advice, ESL classes, and night study groups. And they don’t have very much to work with. Conversations with librarians always astonish us, with their dedication to the cause of adult literacy and the scarcity of funding and material to help.

So, with a little pride, Gemma offered 2 new Open Door adult literacy books in New Hampshire—thanks to passionate writers who have worked with new readers for much of their lives. AMERICAN LION, written by our honest-to-God Wyoming cowboy and teacher, Tim Rush, uses real stories of the mountain lion to engage readers in riveting tales about the majestic animal some call the cougar, some call the puma, and everybody calls a magnificent Big Cat. Professor Tim Rush has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy education, humanities education, and linguistics at the University of Wyoming. Working closely with the tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation, he has helped develop UW programs for certifying teachers of American Indian children. Tim put his rugged experience, and his heart, into AMERICAN LION.

And as the YA book always dominates talk among librarians, Rebecca Elswick, author of the delicious Mama’s Shoes (“an intricate and beautiful landscape…a well-tuned and complex work.”—Publishers Weekly), has devised a clever murder mystery starring teenagers. NO STOPPING HER will keep countless classes guessing whodunit. Rebecca, the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, is the director of the Writing Center at the Appalachian School of Law and a consultant for the Appalachian Writing Project at the University of Virginia’s college at Wise.

These are people who understand the power of a story to teach, and the riches that await readers when books speak to them. We’d like to make sure that all those library visitors find the gold.

Adult literacy…it’s a human right, in any generation.

Shopping in Minnesota

lol-headerWords matter. Oh, yes they do!

 Some years ago, I was in a big box retailer, the one that stocks packages of paper towels by the dozen and luggage-sized jars of mustard. It was Minneapolis, and the Twin Cities had recently welcomed a large population of Hmong, people whose own language was not written until the twentieth century. They came from a nomadic and much warmer environment than the Lutheran lake of ice that is Minnesota in winter. (Police were sometimes required to uncover a coatless boy asleep in the snow – hypothermia to blame.)

I can shop in a phonebox, so this first club experience was thrilling, even though nothing in the store would fit in my tiny apartment except the glee-club-sized packet of #2 pencils. Still, I pounded every aisle, marveled at the abundance, and became slightly terrified of the forklifts. There is no order in big box; ketchup vats sit beside curling irons. Baking soda shares a shelf with motor oil. As I came around an endcap of lentils and baby wipes, I observed a man who had wrestled 2 sample aerosol cans out of their giant packages. He was holding them, staring at them, deciding. In his left hand, whipped cream. In his right, insect repellant. I still wonder what he chose and the consequences of that decision.

Read something. Write something. Say all the words on the labels right out loud. Someone might be listening!

International Literacy Day – marking 50 years

All over the world, people are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the International Literacy Day, founded in 1965 to draw attention to the challenges full literacy faces throughout the world.

The Day’s sponsor, UNESCO, reports that, despite gains, 775 million adults cannot read or write. Women account for two-thirds of that number. Among youth, 122 million are illiterate, and 74 million are girls and young women. While the overall size of the global illiterate population is shrinking, the female proportion—roughly 64%—does not budge.  As is the case with many human rights, girls and women participate at a disproportionately low level.

To mark the progress that has been made and to encourage us toward the future, events are planned all over the globe this week, from Ireland to Pakistan to India. From New York to East Cleveland to the Great Plains of Oklahoma, folks are marking the day. 

So, three cheers for organizations such as International Literacy Association. “Bravo!” to teachers in night schools and libraries and makeshift classrooms everywhere.  

Read. Write. Share. Let’s make the reports a whole lot better by 2025.

About Gemma Open Doors

An innovative program of original works by some of our most beloved modern writers, originally designed in Ireland to promote adult literacy. These fresh stories showcase new writing from both best-selling authors and emerging voices.

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