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January 12, 2023

A love of reading: Nemanja Demic | My Bookmark

Nemanja Demic (he/him) is the AmeriCorps recruitment manager on our national team. He remembers learning to read when he was in first grade, and the start of his literacy journey was somewhat unique.

“My family and I came to the U.S. as refugees from Serbia in 2001, and, for me, the process of learning to read was also the process of learning the English language,” he says. 

For Nemanja, those first few years of learning to read in English weren’t the easiest. “That process came with its own set of challenges and that made connecting to the love of reading so difficult to do,” he remembers.

harry potter love of readingBut in fourth grade, everything changed. At Nemanja’s elementary school, the librarians would gift each child a book on their birthday. Nemanja’s book that year was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which was the catalyst for his love of reading. “From there, I just had to read the entire series, and then any other book that I could get my hands on!” he says. To this day, he still has that same copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. 

“I know, I know, it’s kind of corny because so many of us fell in love with that series, those characters, and their adventures, but Harry Potter (and Hermione and Ron!) took so many of us out of our realities and into a world like none other,” Nemanja says. “I’ve reread that series dozens of times at this point, and watch the movies at least once every year. Although the franchise continues to expand, there’s nothing like the original books.”

love of readingAnother series that Nemanja remembers nearly word for word from his childhood is the Arthur books by Marc Brown.

“I could tell you the plot line to dozens of those books! Remember when Arthur met the president, or Francine stopped feeling shame towards her dad (the garbage man)? Those books hit on so many topics and taught me so many valuable life lessons. I clearly have a passion for books where the main character wears circle-frame glasses!” he says.

Nowadays, Nemanja continues to love young adult fiction. He recognizes and appreciates that the YA and children’s book genres have a much more diverse cast of characters than they did a couple of decades ago. He often reflects on the Arthur series he loved so much as a kid, and how the main character didn’t necessarily need to be an animal; Arthur could have been another kid that young readers could relate to in some way. 

“Representation in children’s literature has come a long way, and I love to engage with that because it nurtures my inner child who needed that representation at a pivotal time in life.” Nemanja says. “That’s why I always say that if you’re going to buy a child a book, or donate books to a children’s library, don’t buy books where talking animals are the primary characters – go for something a little more representative!” 

introduing teddy a love of reading

One aspect of kid lit that Nemanja really appreciates is the somewhat recent proliferation of books celebrating LGBTQ+ stories. 

“As someone who identifies with the queer community, I love seeing books that place LGBTQ+ characters or themes at the forefront and desperately wish they had been available when I was a child. Books like Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson or Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman validate the feelings and experiences children have, and reinforce that their identities are valid and seen.”

pink is for boysNemanja explains that kids may not always get that validation and reinforcement at home or in school, so it’s important for them to at least get it in the stories they read. “Books have the power to take us into worlds unlike we’ve ever known, and then we’re likely to try and make that world into our reality. Let’s make our reality one that is accepting, affirming, and loving!”

Books have the power to unlock unlimited potential in young readers. “Books are validation,” as Nemanja says. “They are windows into the realities of others, and they allow us to feel seen and to see others. Young people have every right to be seen, and they should be taught to see, and respect, others for who they are.”

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