Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 19
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
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A Girl, Her Dad, and Many, Many Books: Ozma Talks About “The Reading Promise

Ellen Gilbert

It seems wonderfully appropriate that Alice Ozma’s first public appearance to promote her new book, The Reading Promise, was at an American Library Association meeting.

The 23-year old Rowen University graduate, who currently lives in the Rittenhouse Square area of Philadelphia, had written about the 3,128 nights she and her father read together, and now she was telling a room full of “readers to the highest degree” about the experience.

Last week Ms. Ozma appeared at the Princeton Public Library, regaling a smaller, but no less receptive audience with the story of how she and her father began their reading streak when she was nine, aiming, originally, to go for 100 nights. The 100 turned into 1000 and just kept going until the day Ms. Ozma left for college.

“My father paints a completely different version of what happened,” Ms. Ozma said at last week’s event. “I patiently endure his version. No matter how many times we are asked, we can never get this story straight.”

Details about their remarkable collaboration include the not insignificant fact that her father is a children’s librarian, and “next to being a father,” reading to children is “what he does best.” More obscure is her father’s nickname for Ms. Ozma: “Lovie,” from a character on the old TV favorite, Gilligan’s Island.

The titles and names of characters in the books they shared — particularly Frank L. Baum’s Oz series — became a shared frame of reference for describing other experiences. Rereading humorous books only made them laugh harder than they had at previous readings.

Books that won awards like the Newbury and Caldecott were also favorites, and, Ms. Ozma reported, she got wise to her father’s ruse of saying “Let’s just read 50 pages” of books that didn’t appeal to her at first. Once they reached the 50-page mark, he would simply observe that, having already read 50 pages, they might just as well as finish.

“We didn’t take it lightly,” noted Ms. Ozma, who grew up in Millville, N.J. The deal was that they would read together for at least ten minutes before midnight every night. Most of the time the sessions lasted far longer. Sometimes, however, their determination to stick with the agreement took on a more obligatory note. In the stands at late-night ball games, they would read from the program or “whatever was at hand.” If Ms. Ozma was sleeping over at a friend’s, they read over the phone.

Even the seemingly obligatory evenings when they rushed to meet the midnight deadline, were not, one suspects, really hardships. Ms. Ozma reflected on the years-long dread they both felt at the prospect of ending this shared passion. The book and a website, http://www.makeareadingpromise.com/, offer a younger generation the opportunity to pick up where they left off. Children and their parents on “a streak” are encouraged to share their experiences with her at Alice@MakeaReadingPromise.com.

In retrospect, Ms. Ozma wisely appreciates the details of her arrangement with her father that made for good parenting. How, for example, could she come home from a party with liquor on her breath if she would be sitting in close proximity to her father as they read? Her father’s constancy was also, to be sure, a great comfort in the face of her parents’ divorce. “It’s worth $100,000 worth of therapy,” enthused Ms. Ozma’s sister after she read the book.

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