This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 25, 1990

April 25, 1990 - Stars

According to the poet T.S. Eliot, "April is the cruelest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain."

But other people have other opinions. According to the American Chiropractic Association, April is the "Correct Posture Month." To the Fraternal Order of Eagles, April is "Boost Your Home Town Month." To the National Exchange Club, April is "Freedom Shrine Month."

It could be that you think of April as just another month with the usual four or five weeks. But as it happens, April has at least thirteen. To name just a few, there's Publicity Stunt Week, Week of the Young Child, Victim's Rights Week, and Professional Secretaries' Week.

In that constellation of special months, weeks, and days (Easter, Earth Day, etc.), you might not have seen anything about (drum roll please) NATIONAL LIBRARY WEEK. But in my unbiased opinion, National Library Week (April 23 through April 28) is the brightest star of them all.

Appropriately enough, "Nights of a Thousand Stars" is the theme for this year's National Library Week. On Tuesday, at 7 p.m., the Oakes Mill Branch hosted a puppet show, some storytelling for children, and a reception. On Wednesday, also at 7 p.m., the Parker Branch will spotlight some local storytellers, readers, and puppeteers. On Thursday, again at 7 p.m., patrons will be dazzled by the play, "Miss Nelson is Missing" -- as well as more stories and puppet play -- at the Philip S. Miller Branch in Castle Rock. All of these nights feature local artists and dignitaries, people who deserve to glow awhile before an appreciative crowd.

The idea behind "Nights of a Thousand Stars" is simple but intriguing. In any community, there are grown-up book-lovers. Most of those people can point back to some influential book or books in their childhoods. I don't mean necessarily, the "good" stuff, like stories with morals, or the Boy Scout Manual. I mean the books children love to death just because the stories are fun.

When I was a kid, I was wild about Dr. Seuss books. Now that I've got a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, I'm discovering the good Doctor's books all over again -- and enjoying them more than I did the first time. I know lots of very intelligent and successful women who admit, sheepishly, to having loved Nancy Drew mysteries. I don't find that surprising at all. Nancy Drew was one resourceful, adventurous young lady. Who wouldn't like her?

During our "Nights of a Thousand Stars", local celebrities will get the chance to read some of their favorites to a new generation of youngsters.

Think of National Library Week as an echo of those moments of your childhood when you looked wonderingly at the stars and thought that anything could happen, a time when you didn't have the words to describe what you wanted or felt, but then had the good fortune to discover a book that gave you those words, and thereby introduced more light into the darkness of your inexperience.

National Library Week: why not check us out?

Wednesday, April 18, 1990

April 18, 1990 - Read to your children

The cure for adult illiteracy is tough. For the adult with a reading problem, it takes a lot of courage to come forward. For student and tutor both, it takes time, energy and patience. Helping adults learn to read is hard, important work.

But it should never come to that. Far better than the cure for illiteracy -- years late and often after devastating personal trauma -- would be its prevention.

There is a very simple way to make sure that your child learns to read. This is something only literate parents can do, and something they should be proud to do.

This powerful teaching technique is not only easy, it's fun. It doesn't cost anything. You can do it in the privacy of your own home.

If you want your kids to read, read to them.

Children learn by imitation. Do you watch a lot of television? Okay, they can learn to do that. The two of you can sit there in the living room and enjoy some quiet companionship. Of course, there won't be a lot of engagement between you. As entertainment goes, it's maybe a little passive.

But if you read to them, if you've got a really exciting story that they can tell you're keen to stick with, then they'll stick with you. And the questions they ask later will amaze you.

I think we all have the secret desire to be great actors and teachers. A rapt, attentive, questioning child can make you feel like a cross between Laurence Olivier and Socrates.

As for the child -- he or she can hardly wait to learn how to interpret all those squiggles on the page. Every night you read to your child you set an example. You share precious time and active expression. The desire to read takes root in that young, eager mind and grows.

Will these children learn how to read? Try to stop them! These are the children teachers treasure -- kids who just know reading is going to be fun and when do we start?

No matter how old you or your children are, the right time to start reading to each other -- is NOW.

Wednesday, April 11, 1990

April 11, 1990 - Literacy

Why read? After all, if it's news you want, either radio or TV will wrap it up in a couple of minutes. If you're looking for advice, there are probably a few people you trust -- why not call them? If you're looking to just relax and have a good time, hey, jab in a video!

If this makes sense to you, if you're nodding your head, then chew on this: every librarian has two nightmares, and you're the second, someone who can read but won't. What's our first nightmare? Someone who doesn't know how to read.

Before I came to Colorado I was a literacy tutor for over a year. My student was an alert, capable man, 52 years old. For 25 years he had worked at an automobile plant, running sophisticated electronic equipment. His memory was almost perfect. His ability to follow oral instructions was close to flawless. When I met John, I had trouble understanding just what I could do for him. Then I had him read me a "diagnostic" passage of text.

John read about as well as a beginning second grader. I was shocked. I asked him how many people knew about his reading problem. Just three, he said -- an army sergeant, John's wife, and his daughter. He hadn't seen the sergeant in 30 years. His wife had died just recently. Once a week, he drove thirty miles to his daughter's house so she could go through his mail and pay his bills. That was partly the reason he had contacted the local literacy project -- it was one thing to lean on his wife, he felt, something else to depend on his grown and married child. Then, the automobile factory closed. John couldn't read a job application.

At first I couldn't believe that a reading problem that severe could go unnoticed for so long. But the functional illiterate quickly learns how not to be noticed. He doesn't have his glasses, could you read this to him? And that phenomenal memory -- he never wrote anything down because he couldn't. He had to remember.

With John, I experienced one of the most intense pleasures a librarian can know. Once a week, I helped unlock the mind- boggling treasure that is a library. I gave him books, and they were welcomed as a starving man might welcome food. His joy in learning was keen and ravenous. He devoured suspense stories, newspapers, magazines, classics, even romances -- with mounting ease and excitement.

I learned all over again what a precious, even magical thing a book is. And I learned how easy it is to teach motivated adults. They have a lifetime of experience to draw from, and a need-to-know few children can match.

Mark Twain said "There is no difference between a man who cannot read good books, and a man who will not."

Why read? Ask John.