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The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared    by Alice Ozma order for
Reading Promise
by Alice Ozma
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

In this volume Alice Ozma presents a heartwarming, inspirational memoir built around the unusual reading regime a young girl and her father followed every night from the time the author was in the fourth grade until she checked into her college dorm for her freshman year.

In elementary school, Ozma and her father, a school librarian, decided to see if they could carry out evening reading sessions for 100 consecutive days. Each evening Ozma's father read to her aloud from a book they picked out together.

The Streak, as they called it, easily lasted the agreed upon length of time and on the 100th night the pair decided that they would see how long they could continue to stretch it out. Over the years father and daughter read and reread the Oz books of Frank Baum and then moved on to Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Donald Sobol, J.K. Rowling and a host of other authors.

As much about the relationship with her father as the effect the books they read together had on her life, Ozma shares many of the more memorable events of her youth. Ten years old when her mother left the family on Thanksgiving day, Ozma and her older sister were raised for a number of years in a single parent household.

For a while the evening reading sessions, which began a year before her mother walked out, eased Ozma through this difficult period of adjustment. Although she appears to have a decent relationship with her older sister, Kath was often gone either on student exchange programs or, eventually, off in college. This meant that Ozma's father was her primarily means of support as she moved through the trials and tribulations of puberty and adolescence.

Here again, the nightly reading sessions bridged some of the awkward and difficult periods in the young girl's life. From the death of a pet fish and nightmares caused by JFK's assassination to getting her first C in her favorite high school class, the author shares some of those memorable and entertaining moments that bracketed keeping The Streak alive.

Obviously, as she grew older, the logistics of doing so became more challenging. Occasionally she'd call home when she was out in the evening to listen to her dad read a short passage on the phone. And, in one instance, he even appeared at a late play rehearsal with book in hand and nearly embarrassed his daughter to death!

The reader will share Ozma's disgust and anger when she shares how her father's exemplary library program was dismantled by a set of school administrators who believed that the library was a place that would better serve students with more computers and fewer books.

Told to cease reading aloud to the youngsters and pack up the books which had been the library's lifeblood, the librarian, with 38 years of experience, retired rather than agree to such a travesty. Ironically, this occurred the very year he was named his city's Teacher of the Year!

Anyone who loves books and still believes that a parent reading aloud to a child is an important passage of childhood as well as an important literacy tool will want to read this book. Not only is this a delightfully entertaining memoir but it also underscores, unfortunately, the sorry situation that is causing the removal of reading aloud sessions, librarians, and, yes, even books from our nation's elementary schools.

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