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A velocity of being: illustrated letters to children about why we read

Maria Popova, founder of The Marginalian, put together an anthology of 121 letters to children about why we read from some of the most inspiring people in our world.
Art by Lia Halloran for a letter by Marina Abramović from A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. As featured on The Marginalian

It was a project 8 years in the making, but in 2019 Maria Popova, founder of The Marginalian (formerly Brainpickings), published a lovely anthology of letters to children about the importance of reading, written by inspiring humans from around the world.

A velocity of being was born of Popova’s “deep concern for the future of books”, as well as a love of literature as a pillar of democratic society.

The book features a collection of original letters to the children of today and tomorrow about why we read and what books do for the human spirit, composed by incredible writers, thinkers, and all-round inspiring human beings, including Jane Goodall, Yo-Yo Ma, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mary Oliver, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Solnit, Elizabeth Gilbert, Shonda Rhimes, Alain de Botton, Anne Lamott, Diane Ackerman, Judy Blume, David Byrne, Sylvia Earle, Richard Branson, Daniel Handler, Marina Abramović, Regina Spektor, Adam Gopnik, Debbie Millman, Dani Shapiro, Tim Ferriss, Ann Patchett, a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor, Italy’s first woman in space, and many more artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and adventurers whose character has been shaped by a life of reading.

Each letter is accompanied by original illustrations by prominent artists like Sophie Blackall, Oliver Jeffers, Isabelle Arsenault, Jon Klassen, Shaun Tan, Olivier Tallec, Christian Robinson, Marianne Dubuc, Lisa Brown, Carson Ellis, Mo Willems, Peter Brown, and Maira Kalman.

All proceeds from the sale of the book are donated to the New York public library system – a gesture inspired by literary greats like James Baldwin and Usula K. Le Guin.

Le Guin’s poem-letter to children, featured in this anthology, is the legendary author’s last published work. (While we’re speaking of Le Guin and her overall excellence – do not forget her rallying call for writers to imagine alternatives to capitalism, or her exceptional writing routine helped fuel her creativity.  

Described as a “labour of love” by Popova, she writes in her introduction to the book that A Velocity of Being is in part about showing “as plainly yet passionately as possible that a life of reading is a richer, nobler, larger, more shimmering life”. We couldn’t agree more.

A Velocity of Being can be picked up from Amazon and all good bookstores.

In further great news, you can also read some of the individual letters featured in the book –  including ones by Jane Goodall, Alain de Botton, Rebecca Solnit, and Jacqueline Woodson – via The Marginalian here. A dozen illustrators from the book also gave Popova permission to make beautiful prints of their artwork, all proceeds from which, like those from the book itself, benefit the public library system. So – another way you can support public libraries that is also beautiful and inspiring.

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