My mother learned over time that D. could not read. A grown woman, living in the U.S., driving a car, caring for a family, D. routinely “forgot” her glasses, always ordered the same meal from the same restaurant, and never, ever picked up a newspaper. Outrageously, D.’s ex-husband, my stepfather, knew of her illiteracy and never tried to help. My mother, wise and compassionate though not a teacher, taught D. how to read, improving her earning power and self-esteem.

The ability to read and write is the ability to change one’s circumstances. Withholding access to education has long been a means of control and oppression.

How Many People Cannot Read?

As recently as 2013, 32 million adults in the U.S. were illiterate.

Today, September 8, is International Literacy Day, raising awareness of and for those who cannot read and write. This year’s theme is Literacy and Sustainable Societies.

Organizations That Support Literacy

Reading Is Fundamental has given away more than 400 million books since its inception in 1966. RIF recently held its annual program to stop the “summer slide,” when kids typically suffer learning loss.

Remember as a child being called upon to read in front of the class? For many children the worst part is fear of forming the words, shame at not being able to read, or to perform under such pressure. Check out this fab segment from  The Today Show called “Sit, Stay, Read” about dogs being brought into low-income schools in Chicago to help kids read. The children read aloud to the dogs. No judgment, just love, patience, pats, and practice, helping them embrace reading.

Target supports many literacy programs. You may have noticed their full-page ads in newspapers this week, a “thanks a billion” campaign: “every time you shopped at Target, you were giving to education.”

I could not fathom not opening Just Kids to any page and being transported back to the Chelsea Hotel, or caring about the people I’ve come to know these 27 years in Elizabeth George’s Lynley series. My favorite writers have enraged me, delighted me, made me cry. They’ve taken me to places I’ll likely never know but experience as though I do.

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