Alice Ozma's The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared was not what I expected. I assumed it would be a tender memoir about the books she shared with her dad and a list of those books for parents and others who read to children. Instead, I discovered a memoir about family.
Richly nuanced and well written by a 22-year-old right out of college, the book looks at reading as a family tradition. There IS a list of books at the back, but the individual books aren't discussed as much as the timing of each and the tradition of nightly reading, a tradition they called "The Streak." Alice Ozma uses metaphor and parable to enhance her message that reading out loud is vital to children and parents alike.
The Brozina family is a typical dysfunctional American family. Ozma (full name, Kristin Alice Ozma Brozina) comments, peripherally, on her mother's departure from the family after an apparent history of suicide attempts, massive overspending, and marital battles. Mrs. Brozina moves to an apartment complex in town, wisely leaving her girls to the care of her husband, Jim. The older daughter, Kath, is pretty much out of the picture by the time The Streak begins. She chose to quit the reading-aloud time when she was ten. But Alice is that same age when, after her mother leaves, she and her father begin their nightly reading.
There are some provocative throw-away lines in the book—issues raised but not fully explored. For example, Ozma mentions in passing that her father's hands shake all the time, without addressing the underlying cause. She also casually comments on her dad calling her a nitwit and a she-ape, nicknames that seem innocuous but may have an undercurrent. Nevertheless, she seems to weather her eccentric upbringing with flying colors. Mr. Brozina is a school librarian—the kind that I remember well from my own childhood. Dedicated to encouraging a love of books in the children who visit the library, his goal is to bring books and reading material to life in the low-income urban school where he works.
Being raised by a single dad has its moments of ambivalent affection, gender gaps, and misunderstandings, especially for a girl. Ozma's father does not like to be touched, and those times of reading at night, her head on his shoulder and a Raggedy Ann in her arms, are Alice's moments of parental devotion. Her father rehearses his reading, pre-screens material, and practices voices before each evening's adventure. He edits his reading to avoid long conversations on delicate topics, leaving Alice to seek out books to read herself to fill in those omissions. Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary give her some guidance on the side!
The last day of their reading is the day that Alice goes to college. Day 3,218 comes in the midst of Tropical Storm Ernesto. On this bittersweet day, Alice's skill in writing comes to the fore. We feel the pang of the coming changes, as well as the memories of the past hours, days, months, and years of the sharing of the written word. Alice says, "Thirteen years ago, my father made the reading promise to me. He kept his word."
Included at the end of the book is your own "Reading Promise" to copy and fill out for the child/children in your life. Enjoy!
Alice Ozma is a twenty-three year old bibliophile born and raised in Millville, New Jersey and currently living in Philadelphia. She loves stories of all kinds and in all forms. She would love to hear about how you started a Streak, or your favorite book, or what you liked about her book. Visit her website.
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