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December 14, 2022

The true power of books: Emmy Leviss | My Bookmark

Emmy Leviss (she/her) is a program coordinator in the San Francisco Bay Area. She first learned to read in preschool. “I was very lucky that both of my parents read to my sister and me every night,” she says. “They would take turns reading so it was either a mom night or a dad night.”

a tree grows in brooklyn power of booksThey started with picture books, and soon enough graduated to longer chapter books such as Harry Potter, the Beacon Street Girls, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

“It was an immense privilege to have this time every night with my parents. As a child, I remember being excited when the time came to read the books that my older sister got to read,” Emmy says. “Now as a young adult, I recognize the importance of nightly reading time in both the development of family relationships and my own learning.”

When asked what her favorite book was as a child, Emmy had two stories come to mind: “My public answer would be The Giving Tree that somehow packs life’s most important message of caring for one another into an accessible children’s book. However, my true answer would be Diary of a Worm. My dad used to read it to me and would crack up because there is both child and adult humor. It is quite a fun read that I would highly recommend.”

For Emmy, reading connects her to the people she loves most. Not only does it strengthen her friendships with friends all over the world (“My very dear friend Tara is the most ferocious reader. I love when she recommends to me her favorite books such as Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi or My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.), but it also brings her closer to her grandfather. 

the odyssey power of books“As I have gotten older, reading has become an essential part of my relationships with other people,” Emmy explains. “My grandfather, Pa, is an unbelievable reader and has spent the last 15 years reading along with my cousins and me. Often at the beginning of the school year, we send him our syllabi and he will trudge through The Odyssey or many novels by Philip Roth. He has probably read The Great Gatsby a dozen times at this point.” 

“I am comforted by how the words of many different authors connect me to the people I love.”

As a program coordinator at Reading Partners, Emmy now spends much of her day engaging with kids’ books. She believes that children’s literature has recently made a huge shift in making history accessible to young minds. “This is the true power of reading,” she says. “I hope that we continue to uphold the notion that no student is too young to learn about Angela Davis or Malcolm X or Emma Gonzalez. I specifically wish that when I was a child my teachers would have read books that taught children to understand history critically rather than repeating white-washed narratives.”

But despite the advances in the diversity of children’s literature over the past few years, many students still don’t have access to high-quality books and trusted mentors who can read with them. “Books are essential in empowering young students today. Yet, in order for books to have power, they need to be accessible,” Emmy says. 

Students need to have access to a trusted adult who can sit down and read page by page with them. Schools, organizations, and families need to create environments where a student feels calm and safe enough to focus on the words in front of them. Libraries and caregivers need to stock their bookshelves with stories that reflect the experiences of all students.

“The true power of books is not about the pages we hold,” Emmy says. “But how schools give the resources and support to create an environment where all students can be empowered through reading.”

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