Carl Sagan, American astronomer, astrophysicist, and author, was also a bibliophile who famously suggested that books are "proof that humans are capable of working magic."
On Wednesday, September 8, 2016, governments, organizations, and communities around the world will recognize and celebrate the magic of books and reading. International Literacy Day was founded in 1965 by UNESCO to showcase the life-enhancing learning power of literacy, as well as provide the global community with a "health check" of the status of literacy worldwide.
The focus of the two-day conference is to honor those who have been working to ensure that, by 2030, all youth and many adults will achieve both literacy and numeracy. Additionally, those attending the conference will launch the Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL), which aims to "promote literacy as a foundation for lifelong learning."
Scholastic, a dedicated promoter of literacy for more than 95 years, recently released the results of the international editions of the Kids & Family Reading Report™ survey in conjunction with International Literacy Day. As those results clearly show, children across the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and India share much in common when it comes to the magic of reading.
Students across all four countries overwhelmingly:
prefer to choose their own books
enjoy being read aloud to
benefit from a parent who is a reading role model
want to read books that make them laugh.
While we can smile in agreement with these insightful findings, we must never lose sight of the people around the world who are far less fortunate. Vast numbers of both children and adults still can’t read. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) reports that there are "758 million adults 15 years and older who still cannot read or write a simple sentence. Roughly two-thirds of them are female."
Perhaps nowhere is the life-saving magic of reading more apparent than in a secret library hidden underground, beneath a bombed-out building in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, which has been under siege for nearly four years.
Here, amidst the unfathomable trauma of war, children and adults alike seek safety and solace among the stacks of books—14,000 volumes rescued from homes and offices destroyed by the incessant shelling of the Syrian army. This secret library provides not only hours of reading pleasure in a safe underground haven, but also learning, inspiration, and, most importantly, hope. As one grateful library patron explains to the BBC:
"In a sense, the library gave me back my life… just like the body needs food, the soul needs books."
Author, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit has written, “a book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.” As we celebrate International Literacy Day on September 8th, let us link hearts, pledge to work the magic of books, and promote the joy and power of literacy—and, in the process, create a peaceful world in which all children have an equal chance for full lives, rich with the magic reading makes possible.