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EDITORIAL: Become a Sun-Times book buddy and give a child the gift of reading

What’s the first book you ever loved?

The one that made you laugh or cry or think? The one that told you there’s a bigger world? The one that made you who you are? That saved you?

Ask anybody who loves to read and they can tell you.

For one member of the Sun-Times Editorial board, Lorraine Forte, it was “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the “Little House on the Prairie” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.

“There weren’t really any books for or about black kids then,” Forte says, “but I could relate to Joe’s spunkiness in ‘Little Women.’ I could relate in general to stories about girls who were trying to be themselves, not shrinking violets.”

For another member of the board, columnist Mary Mitchell, it was “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith.

“It gave birth to my love of storytelling,” Mitchell says.

For a third board member, columnist Marlen Garcia, it was the “Ramona” series by Beverly Cleary. Garcia says she loved that Ramona was “a precocious child with all sorts of (mis)adventures.”

If you love reading (and we’re guessing you do), we know you can name a favorite book from childhood, too. A book that might have started it all.

Now, fellow reader, we’d like to ask you to help us give the joy of reading to others.

We’d like to ask you to be a “book buddy” to a schoolchild who’s about to set off into one of those wide-open childhood summers where nothing quite beats reading a good book on the back porch or under a tree or in the back seat of the family car.

This year, for the first time, the Chicago Sun-Times is partnering with local elementary schools in a program, called “Chicago Reads,” to give a minimum of 2,500 children at least one book of their own to take home this summer.

It’s a simple program. You sign up to be a book buddy and tell us how many children you’d like to buddy up with. To sign up, go to https://bit.ly/30dGjcy. Then we’ll match you with a child and send you his or her letter.

We’ve been reading some of those letters. We could read them all day.

“Dear Book Buddy,” writes a 9-year-old girl in the 3rd grade. “I like many books. I will tell you about the books I read at home. Beanie Boo. Fortnite. Princess books. Fairy tale books.”

“Dear Book Buddy,” writes a 7-year-old girl in the 2nd grade. “I enjoy reading animal books. They are really fun. Thank you. I can’t wait to start reading my books.

“Dear Book Buddy,” writes a 5-year-old boy in preschool. “I drew fire trucks to the rescue for you! I would like a book about fire trucks because I love fire trucks! Thanks!”

“Dear Book Buddy,” writes a 10-year-old boy in the 5th grade. “I love all types of books, but if I had to choose it would be fiction because these types of books just take you to a new world.”

So that’s our pitch to you, fellow reader, on this Mother’s Day. Help us take at least 2,500 Chicago public school kids to “a new world” in a book this summer.

Once you get your letter from a child, you’ll buy the book or books requested (or choose ones that seem appropriate), spending $15 to $20 per child. You’ll wrap and label them and mail or hand-deliver them to the child’s school. Depending on the school, the deadline for delivering the books will be May 27 to June 10. The date for each school will be on the back of each child’s letter, along with other details.

Kids who read during the summer do better in school in the fall. Tons of studies have confirmed this obvious fact. More alarming, though, kids who don’t read during the summer often lose ground, testing more poorly in the fall than they did the previous spring. “Summer reading loss,” as the phenomenon is called, is very real.

That’s a pretty good argument for making sure kids read over the summer, but we think the better argument goes like this:

When you were a child, somebody gave you a book that you loved and you’ve been reading ever since.

What a gift.

Now, as a book buddy, you can give another child the same gift.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.