The magic of literacy

Whenever I think back to the most important times of my life, I almost always think of the books that I was reading at the time. Just like music, books have a way of staying with us throughout our lives.

I started noticing this at an early age, when I was eight years old I moved schools and I was determined to be brave and make friends from day dot. If Hermione Granger could learn how to make a polyjuice potion in second year then I could learn how to make new friends at my new school, so I did.

In the next few years I consumed books like Penny Pollard by Robin Klein, Andy Griffiths’ Just series (Just Disgusting was my personal favourite) and Naughty Stories for Good Boys and Girls by Christopher Milne. Somewhere in the attic of my parent’s house these well-thumbed books sit in boxes. They taught me to be brave, adventurous, curious and sometimes silly.

By the time I was starting high school I had became emotionally invested in Cornelia Funke’s books, such as Dragon Rider and the Inkheart series. I also knew all the latest Harry Potter films word for word, and if you were really curious I could even tell you about the spoilers in the latest book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Reading was just a part of my routine, just like you make time to brush your teeth, I allowed time on my twenty minute bus ride to and from school every day to read. I went through year eight reading the Twilight series by Stephanie Myer and Frankie magazine. Year nine was Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, A Fraction of The Whole by Steve Tolts and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
These books made me curious about how different a person’s life can be, and how throughout all these years of human life we can still be so engaged in words on paper.

When I moved to the local high school in year ten I lost my scheduled reading time because I no longer had to catch a bus, but it made no difference. After the walk home from school I would power through my homework and dive into books like The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon.

VCE was a whirlwind of books; I was almost late to my Debutante Ball because I was so engrossed in The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.

My years at university were encouraged by the likes of Stephen Hawking, John Green, Sylvia Plath and Graeme Simsion during my hour long commutes to and from Melbourne.

All these books, and so many more, have stayed with me. The unfinished ones take me back to those bus trips, walks home after math class and never ending train delays at North Melbourne station. More importantly, they’ve given me a place to hide my head and to learn lessons without making some very terrible decisions on my own.

Knowing that there are places like libraries where these stories have made me feel such profound things and teach me such valuable lessons sitting there awaiting to be taken home for free restores my faith in humanity a little.

There’s no way I’d be who I am now without these books, The Perks of Being A Wallflower taught me empathy, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking taught me to be curious about the universe and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad taught me how to appreciate how beautiful the written word is.

The unfortunate reality is that for 785 million other people on this planet (2/3 of which are women) there aren’t anywhere near as many opportunities to escape to fictional worlds, educate yourself about star deaths and black holes or even simply better your own personal literacy skills.

The reason I decided to intern for the World Literacy Foundation is because they’re trying to change that, and I profoundly agree with their outlook that everyone worldwide is deserving of being literate and educated. Books have this exceptional ability to teach us about things we may never experience and help us empathise with characters by seeing something from their perspective. This has been working for 5,000 years and continues to inspire people of all upbringings.

By Chelsea-Lee Elliott