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November 14, 2023

Books can inform, enlighten, galvanize, and empower us all: Dean Elson | My Bookmark

Dean Elson (he/him) is the chief knowledge officer of Reading Partners. He remembers learning to read when he was in first grade. 

Each week, his teacher introduced his class to one new letter of the alphabet, the sounds of each letter, and how they blended together to form words. One day, his teacher said that they were going to have a new friend join their class. Dean’s six-year-old self thought the new friend would be another letter, and was so excited to find out which one it was going to be. As it turned out, it was actually a new classmate!

With support from both home and school, Dean’s literacy journey was in full swing. He would look forward to going to the library with his mom and siblings, picking out books at the bookstore with his dad, and coming home to read all his new stories. 

what do people do all day cover; Books can inform, enlighten, galvanizeHis favorite book as a kid was Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? “I loved seeing the characters doing all sorts of different jobs and things like building houses, farming, and construction,” Dean says. “I remember particularly liking the page with all the fire engines and wanting to grow up to be a firefighter one day. I entered a drawing contest at age 5 and actually won a toy firetruck as the prize, and I think my interest in entering the contest was because I was inspired by the book!”

Dean also remembers helping to teach his younger sister to read. One moment stuck with him from all those years ago, and it was the moment that reading started to click for her. “The lightbulb went on and she was grinning from ear to ear,” he recalls. 

As a kid, Dean read a lot of fiction and nonfiction books about sports. As he grew older, he started reading a wider variety of genres, topics, and authors in school. “I loved mysteries and trying to solve Encyclopedia Brown cases,” he says. 

After a brief decline in his reading habits in middle and high school, Dean got back into it in his early 20s. 

“It took until my college years to recognize how limited my view of the world was because of the books, textbooks, and other materials I wasn’t introduced to at home, in my local library, in my schools, and in my local bookstores,” Dean says. “When I walk into bookstores, schools, and libraries today, I’m excited about the range of reading materials we can have access to–both physical and through online sources.”

Dean believes that the key to literacy is ensuring that students have more access to books, not less, and helping to engage them in conversations about the material with adults and peers. Book banning efforts impact both the lives of students who want to read those stories and the students who see themselves in the books being banned. Kids deserve to have access to all kinds of diverse stories, accurate historical information, and other non-fiction sources. 

“My hope for them is that they have access to a really wide range of materials, that they are supported in their learning journeys through books, educators, family members, and others,” he says. Just one book can open the door to not only new adventures, but also new information that can captivate a young person to learn more. 

As Dean says, “Books can inform, enlighten, galvanize, and empower us all at any time on our life journeys!”

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