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There is a story my late wife, Ma. Cielo Burce-Lagman, always told our children when they were small:

When she was a young girl growing up in Tabaco, which was then a sleepy town, there was virtually nothing to read besides the limited number of books in school. Having a real thirst for knowledge, Cielo would always be found in her aunt’s stall in the Tabaco Public Market where they had komiks and serialized novels for rent.

One was not allowed to take them home because they were so limited. You were only permitted to read them within the vicinity of the stall. Here, Cielo, at the age of 10, would spend her free time reading Liwayway Komiks. She especially loved the Misadventures of Kenkoy. She learned about revenge, devotion and redemption by reading the Count of Monte Cristo; she reveled in the trials and triumphs of Jean Valjean and lived through the upheaval of the French Revolution by reading Les Miserables; she laughed and held Huckleberry Finn’s hand while they crossed rivers and slept under the stars as they tramped around the Southern United States; and her heart beat fast when Romeo and Juliet first kissed and wept real tears of grief when star-crossed lovers killed themselves.

Not content with komiks and novels, she would even collect the scraps of newspaper used to wrap badi, tinapa, and other dry goods from the market and read and re-read everything written on those bits of newspaper. That was how hungry she was for reading.

This was the beginning of her love affair with the written word, a love that she passed on to our children.

Today, Cielo would have been so happy to know that the students and pupils of Tabaco and other towns of the First District of Albay will be the recipients of thousands of books which will be equivalent to innumerable opportunities to increase their vocabulary; thousands of new adventures in countries all over the world; fresh and innovative ideas to ponder on; a chance to fall in love, cross swords with enemies, go climb a mountain, explore the deepest oceans, try unfamiliar food, discover new worlds, expand their horizons all without leaving the comfort of their homes or school libraries.

Our teachers and DepEd officials here today are living testaments to the power of books and reading. We know that when children open a book, it opens up new and varied worlds for them. Books help in sharpening students' intellect and imagination, beyond what is simply taught inside the classroom. The more we read, the more we understand the world around us. And when we read books, the more we discover life beyond what we already know.

Books Make Us Better Communicators

Because books improve our vocabulary, our communications skills improve. Reading enhances our language skills and develops fluency, allowing us to express our thoughts and ideas better. The more that we can express ourselves, the easier it would be for us to navigate through life.  

Books Educate Us 

They say books quench our thirst for knowledge. But in truth, books fire up, not extinguish, our thirst for knowledge. Through books, we learn about how things work, understand different cultures, and comprehend the history of things and events. Books do not only help us become smarter, they make us more open to new ideas.  

Books Motivate and Entertain Us 

In these times when almost everyone is glued to a cellphone or is on the Internet, actual books that we can touch and flip through offer our brains a different kind of stimulus than what we get from a computer or a phone screen. Research has also shown that comprehension is vastly improved when reading from a book compared to a screen. Books are a source of unparalleled entertainment and have the power to inspire and motivate us with stories of people who have made something of themselves despite the odds. They offer us new perspectives even as books offer us encouragement and hope.

A single book is home to infinite possibilities. Through reading, we light up our imagination and our minds open up to new options and opportunities. And this is the case even for non-fiction books on science and technology, which stimulate the creative mind and encourage modern and inventive ideas. Indeed, books can change lives.

The late US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy said it best when she stated that: “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” 

I am hopeful, that the incomparable hours of joy, inspiration and learning that books gave to my wife Cielo can also be yours and, like her, may you pass on the love for books and reading to your own children in the future.