I recently read an article in The New York Times about the decline of road trips, including hitchhiking 0r “road bumming.” (And no, all the blame doesn’t go to the COVID-19 pandemic.) I think folks largely have stopped picking up hitchhikers for many reasons, including an increase in: a sense of mistrust; an unwillingness of the haves to share with the have nots; and people being self-interested rather than other-interested.
I was a hitchhiker back in my 20s, taking regular trips after the end of a summer job that supplied just enough cash to finance another year toward a Bachelor’s degree. I often thumbed rides from my home in Kansas City to visit relatives in California, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by others who are still dear friends. Later I hitched a ride on a freighter to London and then wandered through 26 countries on three continents.
While traveling by thumb, I always carried a book or two along with a journal to record important experiences. When I needed a new read, I would swap books with other travelers. Sometimes the proffer was a book I had already enjoyed. “Oh, yeah! No, thanks. I read that. Loved the part about…” and then a previous stranger and I would enjoy discussing that particular book, sometimes for hours. But more often than not, books that were new and unexpected fell into my hands as I released my grip on either a lifelong favorite or just another dim literary memory.
So the NYT story took me on a thoughtful journey and brought me to the realization that children, especially young children, are presented with a unique growth opportunity when they’re invited to swap books. Book swapping creates a special form of connection. “Here. Let’s share these experiences that we each will have had, many days and perhaps thousands of miles apart…and hope that the experience is as enjoyable for you as it was for me.”
I’ve become a person that pretty much gives only new books as gifts, a win-win for both parties. However, I’ve now decided that sharing books we’ve already read creates far more substantial and intimate connections than having made a good guess about what a loved one might enjoy reading.
Good teachers work hard to get children to recommend books to each other. Professionals who build a classroom collection of guaranteed kid-captivating books need each new class or group of students to devour the curated book, because when they do, book by book, hoped-for progress is made toward lifelong literacy. The best classrooms have an ongoing background buzz about the books that are making the rounds…girl books…guy books…everybody books…series books…favorite author books…classic books…and more.
As this time of staying safe at home relaxes and when it’s safe for kids to gather again, whether for birthday or slumber parties, play dates, and so forth, make part of the invitation for everyone to bring books that entranced them and then to take home another’s book brimming with potential. From this type of book swapping and sharing, friendships are strengthened and opportunities to talk about the truly important stuff in life are presented.
Now, that’s literacy on fire!