05/02/2013 09:52 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2013

The Legacy of Our Favorite Stories

In an age when books are threatened with disappearance being replaced by "tablets" (you know, the things we bought at the five & dime to write on), we'll focus this month on the legacy of loving books and stories to pass forward to a generation of young readers.

We may have fond memories of librarians and libraries, of visiting those humbling places that held more books, more stories, than we could read in a lifetime.

My personal favorites included "The Little Match Girl," a tragic Christmas story by Hans Christian Andersen; "Hansel and Gretel," the frightening German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. When I became a fourth grade tomboy, I fell in love with horse stories. My favorites were Black Beauty and The Black Stallion. As a "tweener" I graduated to stories that made me cry: Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Civil War tales Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. Those stories taught me about love, danger, and death, important for a Midwestern kid growing up in the 1940s and 1950s when such topics were taboo.

I remember the books I read aloud to my own children, then their children. Legacy becomes obvious: Read and loved by kids in the 1970s and then again in the 21st century, and my pleasure in passing forward love of books, of stories that could make them laugh and cry, develop their empathy and compassion, tickle their imaginations and teach them so much. Here are some of the titles I read dozens of times beloved by both boys and girls over the years: Early Bird by Richard Scary, Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne; the tale of a frustrated ostrich, Why Can't I Fly? by Ken Brown; Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden; the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel and the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. This list must remind you of your favorites from childhood and those you read to children and their children.

There will be those who'll argue that a tablet or a video can do the same things, but there's something so tactile, so wonderful about holding a book, turning it around to show its pictures, holding one side of the book and a child gripping the other, turning paper pages -- shiny and slippery or textured and thick, imprinting us deep within.

"When a reader falls in love with a book, It leaves its essence inside him...."
- Salman Rushdie

Why did I love to read? Stories took me far away from difficult family dynamics. Stories expanded my mind and imagination, and developed my feelings. I have sweet memories of riding my bike to the library on grade school summer days: I'd fill my basket with books for the week, and eagerly ride home to sit in the green apple tree and read, read, read. My first book list was not really a list, but a commitment to read every book on the library shelves beginning with authors whose names began with "A" and my goal was to get to the end of the alphabet before junior high school. (This goal I failed to achieve.)

When I was a college student, the last page of my lecture notebooks was filled with titles recommended by my professors over the semesters. I promised myself I'd read them when I graduated, then after I finished teaching school, then after my kids were less demanding, etc. Another failure! As a middle-aged adult, I experienced the joy of reading aloud in a tiny studio for the Minnesota State Services for the Blind, 15 years of joy coupled with service.

Read a legacy writer's book blessing letter:

I hope you will have a curiosity and wonder about life and the world you live in that will open many doors to assist you in developing your own unique personality traits and interests. My wish is that your exploration will lead you to read great books as sources of information.

This love of reading began for me at a very early age sitting next to my mother on a davenport with my brother on her other side. I looked forward to that time every day, listening to stories that piqued my curiosity and fantasy.

How would I see if I had three eyes?
How difficult would it be to climb a beanstalk?
What would a giant look like?
What would it be like to fight a lion barehanded in an arena?

I was very curious and encouraged to find answers by reading. Stories became vehicles for me to vicari-ously experience Bombay, Greece, China, and other parts of the world. Riding to the library on Saturday morning, my Mom pulling my brother and me in a little red wagon, was heaven for me. I was allowed to check out four books that I could keep, hold in my hand, read and re-read for a whole week. Books are treasures; may they arouse in you a curiosity about travel, art, history, religion, and music. May you value the written word and let reading whet your appetite for life.

Suggestions for Action:

1. Take time to muse about books and stories you've loved and learned from over the years. More will come as days pass, so feel free to add memories and titles to your lists.
2. Then reflect about ways your books and reading have been memorable, important, and an enrichment of your life.
3. If you've read to others (children, grandchildren, friends, the ill or the aging) consider what that's meant to you.
4. If you choose, write legacy letters to inspire younger generations of readers. Tell them your stories about stories, about books that have been memorable and why, and lessons you've learned from books and your reading experiences.

May your stories about stories and books
inspire those you love,
- Rachael Freed

NEW 2012 editions now available of Rachael Freed's Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman [also available as pdf downloads at and Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient, and The Heartmates Journal. She is currently working on My Legacy Matters: Harvesting the Love and Lessons of Your Life, An Intergenerational Legacy Guide, to be published Fall 2013. Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and works with financial, health, and religious organizations on legacy principles and practices. She has seven grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minn.

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