When I’m out visiting schools, as I have been frequently this spring, children often ask who are my heroes. I think teachers ask them that question, frequently, and when they have a captive adult they like to turn the tables, toss it back. I find the question difficult to answer. At first I consider famous people—George Washington or Mother Theresa. But they’re too far away in time or space to be quite real for me. So my mind turns to folks closer at hand.
Living in Pittsburgh, it would be natural to select a sports hero. We have many to choose from. But although I enjoy sports, I don’t tend to lionize athletes. Or politicians or movie stars. Fame and glitz aren’t high on my list. Instead, I try to think, who has made a difference? Who has done something that really matters?
Joan Friedberg and Betty Siegal are two smart women with a good idea. And the energy to carry that idea into action. It’s a simple idea, really. If you start connecting children with books from the earliest months and years of life, they will grow up strong and healthy. Joan and Betty are the organizers of Pittsburgh's premier Early Childhood Literacy organization, Beginning with Books. These women are real heroes—their good idea has impacted and improved the lives of hundreds of children and families all over western Pennsylvania.
I have been notified that I am to receive the second annual Friedberg Siegal Champion of Literacy Award. To receive an award named after Joan and Betty is, in the words of my granddaughter, awesome. In my own words, it is humbling as well. I will have to do some serious stretching to measure up.