On the road to a million words


Email Sandra Nichols

  "The more people read, the more they develop new vocabulary, the more they expand their horizons, and the more they become exposed to new thoughts and different perspectives."


s there anything happening upon which we can all agree?

Yes, ma'am, there is. There is a nation-wide movement to encourage reading, brought to our community by PVUSD Superintendent, Dr. Mary Anne Mays. And nobody disagrees with this. Let's all read more often!

The more people read, the more they develop new vocabulary, the more they expand their horizons, and the more they become exposed to new thoughts and different perspectives. Such efforts to develop the cognitive potential of a town and nation cannot be ignored.

Children and youth in the schools have an added benefit. The more reading they do, the easier reading becomes. The practice of reading not only helps one learn about the world but it also helps one become a better reader. Better readers learn more through reading. It's a cyclic phenomenon that reinforces itself.

And so, you are invited to take the One Million-Word Challenge. Read a million words this year and you are a winner!

A few of us readers were sitting around the other evening discussing how many books you would have to read to achieve the one million word mark. The national campaign advises 25 books at the fourth grade level and above, 50 books below that level. We were discussing long books and short books, different size print and other aspects of the count for adult readers.

I have just finished reading East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. The book is currently so popular that you must put it on reserve at the library. I tried to buy it at a bookshop and every Steinbeck was sold out! It¹s a long book, packed full of words. Words like "Pajaro" and "Watsonville", "Salinas" and "King City." Six hundred and two pages of a purely fascinating story of life in our area about a hundred years ago. We counted the words on a page, multiplied by 602, subtracted a percentage for short pages, and determined that there are approximately 240,000 words in that one book!

If you think reading is a solitary experience and picture a bookworm as sitting alone, isolated from companions, think again. This may not be the modern version of a bookworm. Visit one of our local libraries and you will probably see something very, very beautiful. Parents and children reading together, sharing a book. You may also see people waiting in line wanting to go on-line. We have libraries which are peopled by hungry readers, who come in onesies and twosies and more, to satisfy their craving for words, well written.

I went to the downtown branch of the library on Monday evening. I went, not to choose a book, but because I wanted a quiet place to study in between meetings. The atmosphere was wonderful. Children, seniors and everything in-between, sitting around reading. I was not the only one there who was studying. Young people were obviously working on school projects. There was hardly an empty table.

At one table there was a family of four reading and doing homework together. There were tables of singles, groups of kids, and couples. We were absent any Marian the librarian hushing us, so there was quiet talking going on. The librarians were obviously busy assisting folks. The library serves our town as a clean, well-lighted place, providing a location for after-school study, a place to meet with friends or just hang out. A café atmosphere, minus the coffee.

At some local schools, book clubs for parents are being formed. Principal Diane Burbank has instigated one at Aptos High. The Principal's Book Club will have their first meeting on October 27 at 7:00 PM, in the Career Center at Aptos High School. Participants are reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, preparing to talk about it on Monday evening. What a marvelous example that is for your children! And it makes being a bookworm a social event!

Imagine stopping by the plaza and seeing people young and old sitting on the benches and on the grass, reading together.

You can chalk up some words for reading the newspaper, also! Take, for example, this column. 752 words, including the blurb at the bottom!

Let's become a community of readers! Let's share the joy of a good book with a friend.

Sandra Nichols is President of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 19,000 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools, and was recently appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2003