Amber Short.

Amber Short: Power of literacy

Chilliwack's Amber Short, 33, as featured in The Chilliwack Progress Forty Under 40.

Amber Short couldn’t imagine a world without books; her whole life has been centred around them.

One of her earliest memories is of religiously dragging a battered orange suitcase to the library every week in which she overfilled with books. Picture books. Novels. Adventure. Mystery. Historical.

Years later, the 33-year-old co-owner of The Book Man, still loves the adventures found exploring the stacks of used bookshops.

“Reading transforms you, it takes you away from yourself, it expands your world,” said Short.

“A life without access to countless tomes would be like being locked behind a door that opens to the most incredible possibilities.”

Some kids, however, don’t have that same access or love for the world of books.

Short is trying to change that.

She’s a board member on the Chilliwack Learning Community Society, and serves on the Early Years Committee, both of which have mandates of boosting literacy in the city.

The Book Man is also a strong supporter of local school literacy programs, donating books and providing Literacy Lovers’ bursaries to all three high schools. It also regularly donates quality, used books to the Lady Bug book bins, an honour system that enables all children to read for free.

“It’s an easy cause to get behind,” Short said.

Research shows that early literacy success defines success later in life. But those who struggle with reading and comprehension often struggle in their adult years.

“Think about it, if everything around you was written in Arabic, it would be insane,” Short said. “Without literacy, you don’t have the tools to decode the world around you. You need it to communicate, write, use a computer, for numeracy, for transactions in a store, reading a menu, reading street signs, following directions – it encompasses everything.”

But even though Chilliwack has a wealth of literacy-boosting programs, many don’t know they exist.

“If people don’t know about these programs, they can’t reap the benefits from them,” said Short, who started an awareness campaign with Shaw TV last year.

“We all write our own stories in each moment of our lives, and I know that many chapters in mine wouldn’t have been half as fun to live, or as interesting to look back on with the capacity for considering the impossible that books brought to my imagination.

“I have howled with laughter, sobbed as though my heart were breaking, found friends that have stayed with me through my life to date – all within the pages of books.”