I was already predisposed to really, really like The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma. First, there’s the cover. Can you see the titles of any of the books on which the little girl is standing? The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; A.A. Milne; and Charlotte’s Web, among many others. Be still my heart. And then there’s her name: Alice Ozma. Both names are vaguely familiar. Alice? Okay. I had a great aunt named Alice. But Ozma? Surely, surely, surely it’s not a coincidence that her last name is the same as a character in an L. Frank Baum novel! Don’t worry–I’m not giving away any spoilers here, but let me just say that this is but one small example of the level of influence books and stories have had on this young woman’s life. Last, of course, is the premise, captured succintly in the subtitle: My Father and the Books We Shared. Alice and her father, an elementary school librarian, undertook to read together (her father reading aloud, Alice listening) for 100 consecutive nights when she was a fourth grader. Well, this turned into The Streak (or “Read Hot,” as they alternately called it), and Alice and her dad, James Brozina, ended up reading together daily until she left for college. Yes, they did.
This is an immensely readable project memoir (especially for the bibliophile who loves children’s books best of all), but it is surprisingly not as much about books as one might expect. Oh, a title is mentioned in most chapters, but many times the connection between the chapter and the book Alice and her dad were reading at the time is very subtle. Instead of (or maybe more accurately, in addition to. . .) being about books, this is a love song from a daughter to a man, her father, who had the responsibility of raising her and her older sister alone, and did so rather well, with the help of a few friends of the literary variety.
I’ll admit that I expected more bookish talk than I got from the first 3/4 of the book, but I enjoyed the relationship between Alice and her dad, especially the fact that he was not a perfect dad, but a good one. However, the last few chapters of the book were the best and most heart-wrenching to me as a former elementary school librarian and life-long lover of books and reading. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I’ll just simply say that Mr. Brozina’s career as an elementary librarian is greatly affected by an over-emphasis on technology over books.
If you place great value on reading aloud the written word (as I do), you will enjoy this great story that really magnifies the effect of regular read-aloud time. This memoir reminds of me of Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook, only in narrative form and with the emphasis being not so much on the academic or intellectual results but the relational ones.
(Grand Central, 2011)