In December, 2007 and again in April, 2009 I did some guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace Blog. While ForeWord Magazine is going strong, they have discontinued doing that guest blogging. So, I am going to rerun those posts here at Tea Cozy. Any edits to remove confusion about things like dates is in brackets.
This past November , the National Endowment of the Arts published a report, To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence. The picture it presents is not pretty. Time spent reading is decreasing, and along with that, reading scores. Decreased reading affects everything from employment to attendance at cultural events to volunteerism. Many people asked questions about the report, its method of gathering data, and its interpretation. People may not be as "not to read" as portrayed.
Whether or not you agree with the data and issues in the report, it raises the obvious question. What can we do to encourage reading? To encourage not just the act of reading, but to encourage a love of reading as well? To those of us who love reading and stories, it seems a no-brainer. Reading is fun, of course people want to do it!
Reading is fun. And I think that should be enough reason to encourage reading, and to praise reading, and to value it when we, and kids, read. Linking reading to increased employment opportunities and civic duty may be necessary to get press attention or involve employers and other organizations, but c'mon; does a ten year old care about that? Should they? No; they shouldn't read "because I will be a better person." They shouldn't read "because then I will make more money." They should read because it's fun.
So, how to make reading fun? Is that even possible, or are some people just readers and others non readers? People are as varied as books; there is no one size fits all approach. That said, here are some of my ideas. Since I am a children's/ teen services librarian, I am, of course, thinking about encouraging kids and teens to read. But seriously? I think these things are true for anyone, regardless of age. And when I say "your kids," they could be your own children, the children in your classroom, other family members.
Value Reading. We often hear about valuing books; but what about the act of reading? When the house is dusty, the yard needs mowing, laundry is piling up, where on the list of "things that need to get done" does reading fall? People looking to get into physical shape are told to exercise several times a week and make it a priority. How often do you make reading a priority?
Read yourself. Modeling that reading is fun is the best way to show others that it is fun. Have books in the house. Read books in front of your kids. And discuss books; as people in the kidlitosphere will tell you, half the fun is reading the book. The other half? Talking about the book with someone.
Respect the reading people are already doing. Saying "that genre / series / author stinks, now here is a good book" wins over no-one. But then again, I think the way to win over people is to be nice, not mean. Want to see a kid get excited? Ask them about the book they are reading; ask them, why do you like it; and finally, ask them what books they would recommend to you. Nothing beats an excited kid telling an adult what the adult should read "because it's really, really good."
Read what your kids are reading. Before you start complaining about the time, or not being interested, or having other things to do, think of what you are asking your kids to do. If you want them to, say, read, classics, they're thinking "not interested, no time." So now, you turn around and say the same thing back to them? Not cool. Reading the books your kids are reading gives you a better understanding of what that book is about and what your kid wants from books. It also shows kids that you value their choices and allows you to discuss the books with them.
Discuss books with respect. Respect the book and the reader. Don't talk about books in a "homework" way; talk about books in an "omg, this was so awesome, I have to share it with someone," or "I cannot believe that ending." There is a time and a place for critical examination of books and language and reading; but if your goal is to get people to know reading=fun, now is not the time to tear apart their favorite book, making snarky jokes about the writing. "Oh you like that? Wasn't it done so much better by this other author?" Nope; the goal is not you showing off your book knowledge, but getting someone else excited and engaged about what they read. Discussing books is one reason to read the books your kids choose; it gives you a common experience. You may find some gems amongst the books your kids are reading; or, you may find what they want from a book and have a better idea of what to recommend for further reading.
Alternate formats are good. For some kids, a movie version of Moby Dick watched at nine and a graphic novel of Moby Dick read at eleven is just the right foundation to make that high school required reading fun. (For the record? That was me. Yes, I loved Moby Dick!) Knowing the basic structure and characters helped tremendously, and this is especially true of books written long ago enough to seem to be written in a foreign language. Watch the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice instead of reading the book? No; but watch it for the visual clues about class that a modern reader may miss? Yes.
Covers Matter. Every reader knows that "don't judge a book by a cover" is a lie. Covers matter; so if you are going to invest in books, get ones that look good and appealing. Keep in mind, for some kids, the appeal is a dusty old volume dug up from the attic.
Keep it fun. We're not talking about homework or something someone "has" to do. Turn any of this into "have to" or punishment and you've lost the battle. Making every Tuesday night "the night we discuss books" can end up with everyone (you included) dreading Tuesday nights.
I don't think there is any "magic bullet". A reader may be born at age three, or thirteen, or thirty. That "one book" that provides the "click" moment of reading=fun could come anywhere, at any time. Be ready for it!
This was originally posted in December 2007 at the ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace blog.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy