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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Is Reading Dying?

Many people are bemoaning the fact that now that Mr. Potter has gone off to his eternal Quidditch game, kids will stop reading. The National Endowment for the Arts says only 56.6% of adults will crack a book this year.

As a child I owned forty times as many books as stuffed animals. I went through the entire biography section in my puny school library in a month. I breathe, therefore I read. So its hard for me to think about how kids might need motivating.

But I know not all kids are like me. My son is not. He must be coaxed to read with carefully selected books because he is that elusive reader known as the eleven-year-old boy. But it can be done. He is currently in love with Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief series. I highly recommend it for anyone trying to get boys to read.

So how can we encourage reading when many adults don't read and see little necessity for it in their busy lives? Our schools may have to take on this mission. This year my daughter participated in a trivia contest called "The Book Battle." It harnesses kids love of competition by having them read a selected list of books and compete in teams to answer trivia questions.

The number of students who signed up was a shock to the librarians who organized the contest. The kids loved it. And if the publishing industry was smart, they would start hosting these contests, donating books, and developing future readers who will buy their products.

As authors, we can help. Many states offer Artist in Residency programs that provide money for writers to go into schools and sponsor writing programs. If we want people reading our work in the future, we need to get kids reading and keep kids reading. End of windy rant.


Anonymous said...

Check out:
The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn and Hal Iggulden, published 2007.

At a NYS middle school teachers association conference last winter, I attended a "Battle of the Books" workshop - it's an amazing program, TONS of work, big payoffs.

At the home front, I hear first-hand stories from friends and colleagues who read to and with their young children diligently, but that turned out to be no guarantee that the children grew up to be reading teenagers, much less reading adults.

In school, we do handstands and backflips to promote reading. 20 years ago, schools and society in general accepted the fact that kids who aren't good readers and writers didn't go to college. Now, that's no longer socially, politically, or ethically acceptable, so we DIFFERENTIATE INSTRUCTION, and we engage students in authentic reading and writing tasks (competitions such as Battle of the Books is both differentiation and authentic).

I would love to work with authors in my classroom. I probably could find local authors and local programs - for me, it's an issue of time and prioritizing. My biggest headache often is choosing what I want to do in the universe of "stuff" I could teach.

Thank you for bringing up this topic, "windy rant" and all!

zeldadg said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. I saw a review of this one and it looked great. I know schools are asked to cover so much these days - especially with testing requirements.

I wish the publishing companies would step in and do most of the work so teachers are free to teach and enjoy the event. But human beings aren't known for investing now for pay-offs in the future. Just ask New Orleans. Sigh.

Jennifer said...

i think part of the thing to get kids to read is a matter of sifting through the clutter of books to find something that's relevant and enjoyable. i feel, even as an adult, that stepping into the library or the bookstore 'to find a book' is so completely overwhelming. i usually give up when i have no idea what i'm looking for.

however, when i do have an idea about what i'm looking for-- genre, author, topic, style-- i find it much easier. and knowing, somehow, which books are crap (to me) and which aren't, seems to make it infinitely easier.

like you, though, i'm a pretty motivated reader. imagine how overwhelming it has to be for unmotivated readers!

not sure how to combat it. how can we effectively sift through the clutter of books so that we can find individually appealing titles for all our students or children? librarians come to mind, but my libraries are underfunded (and the librarians surly, to boot).

even then, once you find the titles-- the amazing awesome titles, like tangerine by bloor-- you still have to get the kid to want to read. and man, people don't want to do stuff, especially when you're trying to make them.

if every kid could have a harry potter experience, things would be way easier. as it is, kids have insurmountable obstacles to overcome. they may have learning disabilities, low income, no ride to the library, mean librarians, too many other things to do, parents who aren't invested, parents who are pushing too hard, ... the list really could go on.

basically, i ranted and came up with no solution.

wouldn't it be awesome if sports heroes and movie stars lead young adult reading clubs across the country? lots of them? i can see that being at least mildly motivating.

zeldadg said...

Jenamoured - that's a great idea. Oprah led the way for adults. It's be great if some teen stars led the way for kids.