Friends, the day has arrived! Amidst the insanity of launching her newest (and most excellent) book, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, Connie May Fowler has graciously agreed to spend a little time with us today. What touched me more than anything, and proof of this lady's gigantic heart, is that in sharing her passion and mission with us, she forgot to promote Clarissa! I told her that she could leave that up to me. If you have not read my review of her most amazing work yet, please click on the link above! At this point, I will turn it over to Connie:
Tonight, I’m finally going to meet the fabulous Sandy Nawrot. She’s fabulous not because she’s a fan of my work (for that I deeply love her), but because she is a stalwart believer in books. She knows that books change lives and that reading is an essential component to being a happy, healthy, successful person. Through this blog and by getting involved in community literacy projects, Sandy backs up her belief with action.
So it is particularly apt that Sandy and I will—after a couple of years of email correspondence—meet in the flesh at Reading Between the Wines, an annual fundraiser for the Adult Literacy League of Central Florida. According to the League’s website, “One in every five Central Florida adults reads at or below the 5th grade level . . . Parents with low literacy skills have trouble reading to their children and many don’t even try. Sadly, the literacy levels of children are strongly linked to the educational levels of their parents.”
As a child no older than four, I understood the soul-saving properties of the written word. We were desperately poor and my parents, paralyzed by their failures and dashed dreams, fought every night. My sister and I huddled in our small bedroom and—in an effort to block out their angry voices—she read to me.
I escaped from my family’s violence by disappearing into books. In the fictive world, I found role models. I discovered that there was a different kind of life out there and it was one that I wanted. I perceived—even among the ruins that defined my childhood—something my parents’ had long lost: hope.
My father died when I was six. His death propelled my mother into a quagmire of depression and anger from which she would never recover. She turned on her children, spewing hate, filling us with shame, and leaving both physical and mental scars. Still, I am loathe to blame her; she came from a long line of battered women, and I believe that the generational abuse culminated with her, exacting its greatest toll yet: a penchant toward child abuse. My lingering regret is that when my mother was at her best, she was brimming with intelligence, humor, and potential. But it wasn’t enough to save her.
Through it all—the curses, the name-calling, the belittlement, the beatings—I sought refuge and found it, time and again, in tales told by authors I would never meet but always love. Without books, I do not believe I would be alive today.
And that is why I am taking this opportunity as a guest blogger on Sandy’s site, to ask each of you to put books into the hands of children. I urge you to buy everything from picture books to young adult novels and donate them to your local domestic violence shelter. The children in shelter have witnessed unspeakable acts of terror committed by a parent they love. They bear guilt that they could not stop the violence and heal the battered parent. Notions of safety and happiness—notions many of us take for granted—are skewed in children who come from this background. We need to help them because, simply put, they deserve better. And it’s so easy. One of our daily mantras should be "Give a kid a book".
I am living proof that a child whose family is wracked with violence can find her way out of the darkness one word, one paragraph, one page, one book at a time.
~~~Connie May Fowler
I am not ashamed to admit that Connie's message brought tears to my eyes. As someone who has read her memoir, and read the nearly autobiographical "Before Women Had Wings", I was aware of Connie's childhood. But knowing how books became her motivation for a better life, and how she gives back by sharing her gift with us, I'm so deeply touched.
So here is my promise to myself and to you. Every time I buy a book for myself, my kids or for someone else, I will match it with one for a child. In addition, in the purging of my kids' bookshelves (which is WAY overdue), all donations will find a home with the local battered women's shelter.
The story of how I initially happened upon Connie's books is a tale for another day, but suffice it to say that I believe she was put in my path for a reason. I believe THIS is the reason. There can be no more important mission.