I’ve written a fair bit on my other blog, Two Simple Lives, about how books and stories shaped my view of the world. As with most children, I was drawn to those books that mirrored my own family, solidifying my sense of cultural heritage, helping me understand and relate to my grandparents and parents who would always be a little out of place in the land to which they’d emigrated…and finally allowing me, as an adult, the cultural fluidity to move easily between two countries.
I did not grow up in a wealthy family. There was no extra money at all when I was a child. I wore hand-me-downs from my sister and from family friends, my bike had been second-hand about twenty owners before…but there were always books. Books passed on from friends whose children had outgrown them. Books as birthday and Christmas presents. Books from the library. Children’s magazines sent from England by aunts I’d never seen. Books at school. Books borrowed from friends.
But what if I hadn’t had those books? What if I hadn’t been taught, not just to read, but to understand and love language by my Montessori-trained teacher grandmother, who had come to live with us just when I was born? What would my world be like, without stories?
Stories shape us all, and what stories we have access to inform our thinking, about ourselves, about the world, and about our place in it. Stories are written, spoken, seen and heard. Stories are what the printed word, social media, film and television, the nightly news, the conversation on a bus tell us about ourselves and our society. Stories show us the world through other eyes, through the lens of other cultures, and help us see the humanity in us all. Literacy encompasses all these things: how to decode not just the written word, with all its nuances and inferences, but all the other forms of story as well.
I think about what my world could have been, not without stories, but without either the right stories, the ones that helped me see and understand who I was (who I am) or without the tools to decode and deconstruct the stories, the messages and opinions and advertising, that bombard us every day. I find that putative world a frightening place.
And so, for all those reasons, and more, I nominate Indspire as my charity for consideration in DM Wiltshire’s blog challenge If I Had 100 Dollars. Briefly, this young Canadian writer has challenged others – bloggers or not – to nominate a literacy charity to receive a donation, and to explain why. Indspire is “an Indigenous-led registered charity that invests in the education of Indigenous people for the long term benefit of these individuals, their families and communities, and Canada.” It’s also the largest funder of indigenous education in Canada after the federal government. Receiving a B+ rating from the Financial Post’s ratings of Canadian charities in 2014, it’s run in a fiscally responsible manner. But mostly I’m nominating it because I want all children, from the tiniest village on Baffin Island to downtown Toronto, to have what I have: the tools of literacy, and the opportunity to use them.