Why Is Oregon So SMART?

Why is Oregon so SMART? Because Oregon wants to help every child in the state become a reader.

Which is why today I signed up as a volunteer reader.

SMART – Start Making a Reader Today – matches volunteers with young school children whose teachers recommend them for an extra hour of reading a week. Volunteer readers commit to working at school with a student for the whole school year, either reading a book together, or listening while the child sounds out letters and words.  

We’re all voracious readers in our house.

Here’s a cause I wholeheartedly support. I read to my children every single day – not because I wanted them to hurry up and read to themselves but because I understood how literacy would benefit them.

For example, stories provide rich material to help children develop their inner and outer life.

A story can be a window into an experience they don’t already know, like sailing the sea or going up in a rocket or standing up to a bully. Sometimes, a story is a mirror that reflects the child’s own life, like visiting grandma or growing a garden or being a good friend or having two dads. 

A few of the picture books and middle grade readers we brought when we moved.

My own children benefitted from both kinds of stories and more. We read stories that made them laugh, fired up their imaginations, and soothed them before bed. They heard poetry and history and myths and folktales. Through the hundreds of books and stories we read, they absorbed a rich vocabulary of words, some of which we did not necessarily use at home – specific words about sciencey things I didn’t know, or silly, made-up words like vermicious knids and oompa-loompa. They also heard stories in French, the second language in our home. Each child had favorite books that tied them to tales from their Papa’s country.

As I said, I wasn’t in a hurry for my children to read for themselves, but I understood that reading to them early on would prepare them to learn. Research on literacy shows that children who are prepared to read have more self-confidence, do better in school, take more advanced courses, graduate high school, and go to college. Literacy contributes to their emotional well-being, and their eventual economic prosperity. 

The SMART program aims to improve reading outcomes in Oregon by increasing the chances for all children to become literate. Now that’s a cause I can get behind.


A New Start: A Writer Finds a Home

We started out in this cute AirBnB a few blocks from downtown McMinnville, OR

Eleven months ago, I left Napa Valley and the friends I’d made in 20 years of living there, and I moved to Oregon. At the time, I could count the number of Oregonians I knew on one hand, and that included their children. It was the big adventure. My three daughters were more or less launched, and now there were only two of us at home, me and my French husband who I’ll call P.  P. wanted to pursue a new adventure in vines and wines. And me? I would be Jenny 2.0, an updated version of myself as a writer.

I vowed to Paterson-ize my journey. In the movie Paterson, a gentle bus driver writes thoughtful poems about life as he drives his route in Paterson, NJ. He navigates the streets, mentally rewriting lines in his head. While he turns the oversized steering wheel, he muses about space, time and love. He manages to be present to everything that happens to him, no matter how odd, and, in turn, those things become the stuff of his poems. 

Before moving, I had lived mostly in Connecticut and California, two places far apart geographically and culturally. My parents and sibs dispersed to the wests – the Midwest, the Southwest, the Far West. France was the only constant. P.’s family still lives in the wide river valley where he was born. 

Photo by Philippe Pessereau

Oregon reminded us both of home – the big, puffy clouds that sail overhead in the summer, vineyards climbing the hills, and the profusion of spring flowers. The smell of blackberry bushes warming in the sun was familiar. The sharp peak of Mount Hood in the distance was not. I learned to pick out a decent pinot noir. Break up clay to make a garden. Listen for the sump pump under the house after a day of rain. Little by little, my life was becoming Oregon-ized. Instead of me writing poems about Oregon, Oregon was writing me a poem every day and inviting me to live it. 

I look forward to sharing my musings about writing, children’s books, the Northwest, France and beyond. But, wait, I forgot to introduce myself! My name is Jenny Cox Pessereau and this is where I live now.