August 7, 2014

Reinventing Your Fate - #Change #FindTheWords

As the school year begins, too many children are already falling behind. I am 1 of 30 bloggers helping #FindtheWords with @SavetheChildren to raise awareness of the need for early childhood education for all kids. I am participating in this social media campaign to highlight 30 words in 30 days -- to symbolize the 30 million fewer words that children from low-income homes hear by age 3.

Save the Children provides kids in need with access to books, essential learning support and a literacy-rich environment, setting them up for success in school and a brighter future. Learn more about Save the Children’s work in the US and around the world:

Read to the end for a Giveaway!

When I was about nine years old, I fell in love with the All-Of-A-Kind Family books.

I don't know how exactly they came into my hands, but they were the perfect blend of familiarity and fantasy. A pre-WWI family with five daughters living in New York, Jewish and American, wearing beautiful dresses but also destroying them as they climbed trees and hid in Papa's rag shop.

As a Jewish American girl with two sisters, living in New Jersey, I was in love. I fantasized about my parents having a gaggle of additional children- the idea of being the second oldest took root, and I thought it would be MUCH better than simply being in the middle. The stories the family in the book told about Elijah the prophet and the obviously archaic but still fascinating way girls weren't permitted to study Hebrew, which I began to take particular joy in doing at synagogue on Saturdays, stayed with me as I stayed up all night, reading and re-reading the stories.

And then I had the most incredible discovery- there were more All-Of-A-Kind Family books.

I snuggled under the covers to read the second, All-Of-A-Kind Family Downtown, and read with total obsession the story of the birth of the five sisters' new baby brother.

He was sick, and it seemed he might die. So one day, in the midst of all the worry, Papa takes the baby to the rabbi, to change his name. Papa explains that sometimes, when somebody is very sick, the only thing left to do is change their name. That way, when the angel of death comes looking for them, they'll be looking for the wrong person and pass them by.

Silly, I know. The idea that you can change your name and be so profoundly changed that your own fate can't find you. But it resonated with me.

It was around that time I had become not only an insomniac, but also depressed. As my childish depression deepened into something more profound, I kept thinking about that story. About changing your name and changing your destiny. And so when I was ten years old, I made the decision to change my name.

My grandmother mocked me. She would call me "Rachel," and I would answer, and she would point out that if I didn't want people to call me that I had to stop answering to it. So I did. From that point on, the only name I would answer to was my middle name.

I was determined to stop being Rachel. I was going to be somebody else. Somebody less frightened of being made fun of, somebody bolder and braver and more confident. To me, 'Rachel' was a shroud I'd been wearing my whole life, and had done nothing to make me happy. So I shrugged her off, and assumed the identity of my middle name, 'Lea,' who wore whatever the hell she wanted to instead of trying to fit in with the WASPy pre-teens in her girl scout troop. Claudia, from the Babysitter's Club, became my style icon. I cut off my long hair and embraced the "New Jan Brady" style 'fro that puffed up in its wake. And then my family moved.

I embraced every aspect of this change. I was a new person, with a new look, a new outlook on life, and now- a new location. I showed up for my first day of middle school with my hair puffed in a halo around my head, horn rim styled pastel glasses, a floor length gold skirt, and a blue cropped faux turtleneck t-shirt.

And while it was true that everything on the outside had changed- my appearance, my name, my location, my school... things were fundamentally the same. I was still woefully unpopular, still the butt of ceaseless jokes and the recipient of incessant bullying, and still profoundly unhappy.

But I was more confident in who I was. I was a person who had defined myself, and although my attempt to change my life by changing myself hadn't exactly worked the wanted it to, it had worked in some way. I had, mysteriously, kind of grown up a little.

I was changed by the act of changing.


Books had a profound impact on me during my childhood, but not every child is so lucky. Having books in the house helps children learn not just to read, but to appreciate and cultivate language. 65% of young children in need have no access to books, and more than two thirds of poverty level households have no books appropriate for children in the house.

By the age of three, children from low-income homes hear on average 30 million fewer words than their peers, which puts them at a disadvantage when they start school- a cognitive delay of eighteen months.

But we can change that.

Join in the #FindTheWords campaign! If you see a picture of my word, "Change," tweet it with the hashtags #FindTheWords and #Change. Help raise awareness of what Save The Children is doing to help kids reach their potential, and move out of poverty.

...if all the student in low-income countries learned basic reading skills, 171 million people could be raised out of poverty.

You can help.

And to thank you, I'll be able to give one of you a $100 gift card, from Save The Children. All you have to do is comment on this post, telling me about when reading has changed you. Or helped you change the world for the better. (Please leave your email address in the comment, a link to somewhere I can find you via social media. Facebook, twitter, the usual.)

#FindTheWords. Be the #Change you wish to see in the world.


  1. When I was 6 my parents got divorced and I had to leave my home in New Jersey to live in my mother's home country of Colombia. Before I left, my 1st grade teacher gave me a copy of "Gulliver's Travels" to read. I related to Gulliver because I felt like a stranger in a strange land. Reading that book changed me because it helped me cope with my situation. Thanks for the giveaway!

    mami2jcn at gmail dot com

  2. My mother taught me how to read, which the public school teachers disapproved of because it meant I was far advanced. The way she taught me how to read was different. Instead of recognizing whole words, she taught me phonetics. I excelled in loads of subjects because of that and got bullied for it. And we were very, very poor. However, reading helped me to escape that bullying and our poverty. I don't think I would have survived high school without it. I also certainly wouldn't have become an author. I can't imagine a life without books.

  3. I think I was about 6 when a cousin gifted me a book of Fairy Tales. I was hooked on reading ever since.

  4. I'm a teacher so I see how books change lives daily! I've seen students who dread going home immerse themselves in books to get through tough times. I've seen how become literate can change a child's goals and aspirations for the future.
    What a great cause to support! Thanks for bringing it to everyone's attention.
    janellethoma [at]

  5. I think reading has always been an escape for me ... a way to inject humor and home into my young world. My mother was sick from the time I was five and died when I was 10. So I loved reading about other families ... families that were happier than mine ... kids who were having adventures, like Ramona and Pippi and Harriet the Spy ... kids who didn't have moms who were always in the hospital. Forty one years later, I find myself reading for these same reasons again ... to inject humor and hope into a world in which my husband and I spent 6 years and our life savings on a business that went under ... a world in which our daughter is inexplicably in and out of the hospital for a variety of ailments ... a world in which I awoke at 50 to realize that not one dream had come true ... of being on Broadway ... of travelling the world ... of being a successful humor writer. So in the last few years, I've inundated my life with the words of others ... inspirational words on everything from how to be happy to how to make a fortune ... humorous novels ... biographies of people who have overcome great obstacles and won ... tales of people who have reinvented themselves at every age. I read novels. I read blogs. I listen to books on tape while I'm commuting -- about trusting that the universe has taken my order and believing my dreams will be delivered to me. I read stories that allow me to escape to another world. I believe it is the words of others that have kept me going in my own life. And it is the words of others that finally inspired me to capture my own voice on my blog, instead of just writing corporate communications, marketing pieces, news stories. I have found my dream again and actually believe it can happen, even if it took much longer than I'd hoped. And every day, I do something, however little, to feed that dream and help it gain momentum. So I'm changing my own life now, through words, spurred on through the words of others. There's an interesting symmetry to this story!

    I loved your piece. And thanks for bringing this cause to the forefront.

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  9. My first sentence is supposed to read "humor and hope!" Feel free to correct that!

  10. I volunteer at the literacy council and it is sad how so many adults are illiterate or at low grade level reading levels. I love helping people learn, because once they get that down, there are so many opportunities that open up for them. littlesillysally at gmail dot com

  11. Reading changed me because it was always something special my mom did for my brother and I. She would sit with us every night and read before bed, and now I do the same for my children.


  12. I learned to enjoy reading as a child from watching my mom read so much and reading different genres. She is inspiration and I continue to enjoy reading now as well as read and encourage my son to enjoy reading.

    dlatany at gmail dot com

  13. My Mom taught me to read early when I was 3 y.o. It changed my life because I loved literature ever since.

  14. I have loved reading my entire life, but I think it became a passion once I read To Kill A Mockingbird. That book changed they way I looked at the world.

  15. The first book I read that changed my life was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.
    Teressa Morris

  16. I love reading the comments. And feel so lucky that I've always been surrounded by books and reading--that's just what you did in my family. My father is a librarian and today I take my 2 children to the library at least twice a week. To discover new stories, old friends (Ramona, some American Girl heroes, Henry and Mudge), to have a warm (or cool) safe space to play in. To borrow a magazine or book of short stories or a memoir or a cookbook. It's just part of our family culture.

  17. reading has always been a huge part of my life. I started reading a lot in middle school to overcome some problems and just to escape everyday life. It certainly helped me out and I try to read whenever possible now.
    POKERGRL8 at

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  19. I always liked to read. I used to go to a summer reading camp when I was younger and that is how reading first changed me.


  20. Reading has helped me to be a great public speaker in the profession I do. I started young by doing the church anouncements. I would read letters from other churches of invites to events they will be having. I am so thankful I was able to do that at a young age


  21. When i was 6 i found out that i loved to read poetry. It has helped me with my own writing of poems as years went on. I have binders full of short story's and poems now. I have kept everything i have ever written. It always helped me in school to choose my career path too. Reading has been my evolving circle of life. I now get to share it with my kids, as they love to read and are very much involved in our local reading programs.

    lil_lady_dz (at) yahoo (dot) com

  22. I remember exactly when reading led to a change in me and others. I read a book called "The Leopard Tree" which I highly recommend. It was about orphans in Africa that made their way to the US to let people know what was going on there and inspire change. Shortly after that, a man on Google+ sent me a message. We just chatted back and forth for a few weeks and later when I asked him what he did for a living, he said he ran an orphanage in Africa! I saw their website and got to see the children through Skype. The entire group sent me picture and hand made jewelry to thank me for sharing their website on my social media! I was so moved by that. Over the past years, I've sent them care packages and money when I can. Since I work at a college, I was able to get them 2 laptops to help them look for more people to help. It's been an amazing experience. I hope to visit them someday. My email is and my facebook page is Jennifer Mae Hiles - Thank you for writing about this wonderful organization!

  23. As a grade school teacher for many, many years I feel like I am making an impact each and every day by not only teaching children to read but also by giving them the tools to facilitate growth in reading once they leave my class. It's an amazing feeling when someone comes into class at the beginning of the year and can barely read or spell at all and by June he/she is not only flourishing but also passionate about books too.
    cbythesea5@gmail dot com

  24. There hasn't been one single time that a book has changed me. Rather, every time I read, I am changed. My perspective, my opinions, my emotions, my ways of living. There is so much to learn through the written word. So much to take away, whether good or bad. Sometimes a book will teach me how I don't want to be. The kind of woman I don't want to model after, to raise my kids to be. Sometimes a book will have a character that resonates so profoundly with my soul that I find myself crying in the middle of Sophomore high school Science class while reading an emotional chapter; laughing when a character's quirk pops up when I'm waiting at the Doctor's office. Losing myself in a book while my children play around me is my way of passing that love of books onto them. Reading as many books as my kids want before bed time; letting them fall asleep with the book lying across their face; Keeping a book in my purse for a quick quiet-down when out in public. Books are so important for so many reasons. No matter the impact...they all change me. (



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