Next to the Bible, this is the most influential book in my life. Published in 1956.

We get a lot in the press about education. It’s a political buzz word because it is the passion of every parent. We all want our children to get a good education. As I look back on my experience in and around classrooms, both as a student as well as a teacher, I know exactly what made the difference for me.

The foundation for education is the ability to read well.

My mother taught me to read using what we kids called “The Johnny Book.” The actual title was, “Teaching Johnny to Read.” It’s out of print now and a used one on Amazon costs $52.50 at the time of this writing.

If you can get your hands on one, you will find that it is very simple. It begins on the inside of the front cover with the alphabet. Next it covers the sounds of the letters, both consonants and vowels (long sounds and short sounds). From there it begins to build single syllable words in columns. The first page of columns contain only short “a” words like “bat, cat, rat, ran…etc.” By the time the book is finished the child is reading words like “independence.” How long does it take for a child to get through the book? It isn’t important. I was in this book probably close to a year. I really don’t know. My mother would work with each of us four kids starting at around the age of 4. She would have us read the page until we knew it completely before moving to the next page. I remember she would put star stickers on the book as we mastered each page. Because I am the second child in our family, I saw all my older brother’s stars.

There are some great family stories about the Johnny Book. My older brother Dan had a temper. He didn’t particularly like to sit still, so periodically he would throw the book. It didn’t matter. My mother made sure he didn’t win. He learned she was more stubborn than he was. Also, he discovered that if he pushed her too much, dad would step in. Not a good thing. As a second child, watching the mistakes of the first one, I was much more compliant. Besides, by the time I was learning to read I could see my brother reading books on his own. I wanted to do the same. My younger brother, Tom, was a very quiet introverted kid. It turns out later that he was incredibly intelligent. My mother and he would be lying on a bed going over the Johnny Book and he would be sort of to side looking at an angle. This resulted in him being able to read words as easily upside down, as right side up.

Eventually the Johnny Book wore out – and it went out of print. So my mother had our copy Xeroxed and put the pages in protective covers. In this way, the book was passed down to the four of us kids later on.

Fast forward a generation. Now I’m the parent of two little girls. When each reached the age of 4, I started them on the Johnny Book.

So what was the result of the Johnny Book in my family?

Here is my older brother, Dan, today.

My younger brother, Tom, today:

And our sister, Susan, is a general dentist in Tok, Alaska. Unfortunately she doesn’t have a website. She probably doesn’t need one being the only dentists in 150 square miles.  Click here.

I could go on and brag about my kids as well as nephews and nieces now (it’s very tempting) but I think I’ve given enough supporting evidence to the importance of teaching little ones to read before they go off to school.

The even deeper reason I share all of this is to state this fact: We all have within us a greater capacity for growth and success than we realize – especially as young children. Good stubborn parents have a lot to do with how far we will go in life.  You can look at me and my brothers and sister and be impressed if you want, but I am here to tell you, that we were nothing special growing up and what we have become has a great deal to do with having been blessed to have a couple of parents who took raising us very personally and very seriously. If you are a parent, grandparent, or just some caring adult, understand that you have incredible long-lasting impact on the lives of children.

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