March is designated as National Reading Month to motivate Americans of all ages to read every day.
Reading is a key component of education and professional development for every person. It is also good for your health, since it can increase brain function, memory, vocabulary, empathy, and can help decrease stress. Reading can benefit you in school or at work, can help you learn about places you may never be able to visit in person, and can teach about people you will never meet.
Reading is rewarding because you can imagine different worlds that you would have never thought of yourself. Reading can lead you to imagine fantastic fantasy, follow along with a crime that needs to be solved, or get acquainted with characters who are growing into the type of person they most want to be.
The best way to participate in National Reading Month is, or course, to read a book. Maybe you can try to read for 30 minutes every day for a month and see if you notice a difference in your stress level, reading skills, or creative thinking. Another idea is to share your favorite book with someone and tell why you like it. If you don’t have any appealing books or magazines already on your shelf, go to your local library and look for a book that interests you. If you’re already an avid reader, you could start a book club. Pick a book that you and your friends want to read, and when you get done, meet for tea or coffee to discuss it. If the book has inspired a movie version, you could host a viewing party and then discuss any differences you noted.
Read Any Great Books?
One of the most popular books for young people is Holes, a 1998 book written by Louis Sachar. It’s the story of Stanley Yelnats, who is sent to Camp Green Lake, a correctional boot camp in a desert in Texas, after being falsely accused of theft. Stanley is away from his family for the first time, scared since he is surrounded by boys who committed crimes. He has to do hard labor for the first time and learns how to deal with the injustice along the way. Holes gives readers a bit of a glimpse into the justice system for juveniles and shows how hard it is for families that don’t have money for proper legal help. As a bonus, the movie based on the book is really good!
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has been required reading in school for years because it’s a great coming-of-age story with a darker drama of the consequences of racism, prejudice, and group think. In it, a young white girl learns about racism by watching her lawyer father try to get a fair trial for a black man who is falsely accused of hurting a white woman. Set in a time when many black people didn’t get a fair trial, this book does contain adult themes, but as a teaching tool it helps show the injustice that many Americans of color have faced. This book is famous for a reason, and yes, there is a movie version of it.
One of my personal favorite books is Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress. It’s about a young man nicknamed Peejoe, who is raised by his grandmother until his Aunt Lucille goes on the run for committing a crime. When his aunt leaves town, Peejoe’s grandmother must care for Lucille’s many children, which causes Peejoe and his brother to stay instead with their uncle and his wife. The story takes place in Alabama during the summer of 1965 and follows Lucille’s journey, Peejoe’s coming of age, and the issues that lead to different crimes. This book covers race issues in Alabama at that volatile time, gender issues, mental health issues, and the challenge of telling the truth when some people in authority don’t want you to speak up. The movie based on the book is actually pretty good!
The book Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen is about a 15-year-old boy named Cole Matthews, who has been violent for years and coping with his emotions by taking them out on other people. After Cole gets angry and beats a classmate pretty badly, he faces punishment for his crimes. When he must choose between prison or an alternative Native American method called circle justice, Cole chooses circle of justice sentencing and starts his banishment on a remote island in Alaska. Touching Spirit Bear is a great read for those who have ever dealt with their anger in unhealthy ways or felt bad for how they treated someone. I think this book also has a great redemption timeline that shows how people can change and heal when they put in the work. The book’s sequel is really good, too!
Much more contemporary is the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Its first book, The Lighting Thief,introduces Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old who learns that his father is Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. This story explores what different families look like and what it is like to feel different from other people your age. It would resonate with anyone who has dealt with learning difficulties or felt the need to get in trouble just to be noticed. The entire series explains Greek mythology, which can help you understand the stories of other cultures and why they are important. In addition to the movie version of the first book, a Disney television series is scheduled for 2024.
Jessica Frye is studying social work at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and wrote this while an intern at RiseUP Cooperative.