Sunday, July 15, 2007

Let's All Read?

Two articles in the NY Times caught my eye, both dealing with reading. One is about a library phasing out the Dewey Decimal system in favor of bookstore-type headings (Fiction, Religion, Cooking, etc.). The other was an article on Harry Potter books and kids' feelings about reading.

From the Harry Potter article:

“Unless there are scaffolds in place for kids — an enthusiastic adult saying, ‘Here’s the next one’ — it’s not going to happen,” said Nancie Atwell, the author of “The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers” and a teacher in Edgecomb, Me. “And in way too many American classrooms it’s not happening.” "

"In a study commissioned last year by Scholastic, Yankelovich, a market research firm, reported that 51 percent of the 500 kids aged 5 to 17 polled said they did not read books for fun before they started reading the series. A little over three-quarters of them said Harry Potter had made them interested in reading other books."

"But creating a habit of reading is a continuous battle with kids who are saturated with other options. During a recent sixth-grade English class at the John W. McCormack Middle School in the Dorchester section of Boston, Aaron Forde, a cherubic 12-year-old, said he loved playing soccer, basketball and football. On top of that, he spends four hours a day chatting with friends on MySpace.com, the social networking site.

He had read the first three Harry Potter books, but said he had no particular interest in reading more. “I don’t like to read that much,” he said. “I think there are better things to do.”"

From the library article:

"It was Harry Courtright, director of the 15-branch Maricopa County Library District, who came up with the idea of a Dewey-less library. The plan took root two years ago after annual surveys of the district’s constituency found that most people came to browse, without a specific title in mind."

"Further, though the branch is part of a new high school, the atmosphere is not of a kind generally associated with much research. At its center are not books, or computers, or even a reference desk, but rather a cluster of pastel-colored couches and chairs. And while even chain bookstores still put out classics like “Jane Eyre,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Moby Dick” for summer display, at Perry such books have taken a back seat to Paris Hilton’s “Confessions of an Heiress,” a children’s book by the New York Yankee catcher Jorge Posada and Chris Gardner’s “Pursuit of Happyness.”"

These got me to thinking about my kids and kids in general. My sons grew up avid readers. My oldest read when he was 3 and a half (I didn't teach him, he just started reading) and his brother loved to be read to (but started reading at the end of first grade which is probably typical). I had to read the first 4 Harry Potters to them aloud (raise your hand if you've read one of these books aloud; all those voices and the length! It gives me appreciation for people who do it for a living.). I felt that my husband and I had set them on a good path.

Don't get me wrong; they still read. But I'm not seeing them as engrossed as they were before. The other distractions of 2007 are there; tv, computer, video games, friends, movies, etc. I feel it a struggle to keep them reading (even as their father and I read constantly).

Then I see these articles and start to worry about reading life after Harry Potter ends (will Paul Simon starting singing, "Where have you gone, JK Rowling? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you." After we turn the libraries into Barnes and Noble. About the casual way we are thinking of libraries as drop-in spots to drink coffee and browse books. I don't want to go back to the hushed days and shushing librarians but are these two articles a worrisome trend?


Jet City mom said...

And while even chain bookstores still put out classics like “Jane Eyre,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Moby Dick”

Well no wonder-

Jane Eyre is good if you like Gothic and have little else to read- Uncle Toms Cabin is so depressing- definitely not a summer read & I have never been able to get through Moby Dick, even though I do know kids who have.

What about books that tie in to adventure movies- The Perfect Storm, Into Thin Air, Master and Commander?

My daughter had never learned to read, till 3rd grade and her teacher began reading Harry Potter to the class.
No, it doesn't appeal to all kids- but there are many great books out there ( and while I will always have a soft spot for the books that inspired my D to begin reading, there are many books that are more well written than Rowlings- L'Engle for one)

My oldest also taught herself to read at 3, what a shock!
( Then she attended a college where she didn't even have time to read a magazine on the train- too much class related reading to do)

But even though my younger D is dyslexic, she still has read LOTR and the Silmallarion ( something that inspired me to throw across the room)

Do they still have DEAR? at schools? ( drop everything and read)
I think it helps to think of reading not just as a way to get information- but for relaxation and entertainment.

Charlie Mas said...

I read Moby Dick for pleasure when I was seventeen and loved it. What can I say? I'm a freak.

Adventure stories are compelling, and the classics do stand up, so I recommend Ivanhoe all the time. I would also recommend Tarzan, although the prose is kind of dated ("stygian darkness", "Herculean effort", etc.) and there are some stunningly racist elements, it's just the thing for a teen-aged boy. There are 24 Tarzan books altogether. I think I read 17 of them, finishing with Tarzan and the Lion Man, but my brother read the whole series.

Some of the same can be said for the works of Mark Twain.

Teens still read the teen classics, Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird and they are still brilliant.

I can't imagine anything by Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler ever going out of style. Say what you will, The Maltese Falcon is one of the best books ever written by an American.

Geeks will always read, and they will always read science fiction / fantasy, but The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has more universal appeal. I would also recommend Neuromancer by William Gibson and the Sabriel series by Garth Nix. They aren't exactly "classics", but they are good.

There are books so funny that no one can fail to enjoy them. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 is so funny you might wet yourself. The various Jeeves and Wooster stories, will prepare a reader for Three Men in a Boat, all classics from the Edwardian era.

Anonymous said...

I share the Geek designation proudly, and still give books as presents to all of the children in my life.

Keep in mind that we are lucky enough to be in the city of Nancy Pearl, and I have found her "Book Crush" recomendations for kids and teens to be pretty spot on.

Anonymous said...

My daughter didn't own a video game until she was 10. When she came to John Stanford as a homeschool transfer, her teacher treated her like a bit of a freak because she didn't know anything about Pokemon!

Our home was without electronic media, at least when my children were young. My younger ones learned to read at ages 7 and 8 after years of story telling and being read to. Now they wake up and read in bed. They read at night. I'm so glad they find so much pleasure in reading. On the downside, they're not as physically active as other kids their age. I'm impressed that they've read all 6 HP books. I've only cheated and listened to them on tape.

We have DEAR in our school and my kids love it. WenG

Jet City mom said...

If you like Three men in a boat you have to read To say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis ( which I actually read first)

But I think, people are still reading, certainly in Seattle, don't we have more book stores than any other city?

But if kids go through a time, when they are IMing their friends for three days straight, or only wanting to watch DVDs of House, I wouldn't worry, because they will come back to books cause they are always there.
For years I just read short stories, because that was all I had time for- ( and I know a certain orchestra teacher- who doesn't read books but instead musical scores in bed- says his wife it hasn't hurt the esteem we hold him in.

I think we forget that kids are really paying attention to what we spend our time doing.
If we read a lot, if we love books, they will probably come back to that. If we play the mandolin every week, they might give that a try eventually too.

I think Nancy Pearl is great, for the attention she has gotten for libaries and reading, but I really don't agree with many of her recommendations- just different tastes I guess.
I think books on tape or cd are also very valuable.
I have ADD and for some reason, the eye tracking required when reading puts me right to sleep.
I bet a lot of kids have the same problem.
When your homework takes 3 hours, because you doze off in the middle of a chapter- you might not want to be doing it for fun very often.

Anonymous said...


I don't disagree with your anti media lifestyle, in fact I commend you for having the will power to enforce it. However, I am here to say, as a mother who did allow a reasonable amount of video game playing and TV watching, that it did not take away or limit the will to read in our sons. My oldest goes through two books a week, and reads constantly. He reads in the morning in bed, at a restaraunt while we are waiting for our food, in the car, at the park, everywhere. The thing we find is that we have to make sure that he has access to books that interest HIM. Those books are very different than the books that interest us. They are generally far out sci-fi and sometimes even books related to a video game. I think the sci-fi books represent fantasy, and my son really enjoys them. Sometimes he will read a book, and a year later decide it was so good he will re-read it!!! Find what they like and they will read.

Anonymous said...

Reading is so much fun! It's great to see these book recommendations. While I see the point of the Anon parent's post above (son reads even tho access to media), I also know as an early childhood educator that many children are too distractible to siphon off the media influence and go for the quiet joys of reading. I'm not saying that there should be zero media, but pretty darn close, especially for the 5 and under set.

In my house we have media access but I set up the environment to discourage it. The only computer is quite clunky and is in the kitchen where I can see it and anything my tween and little sib are doing. The speakers broke and I never replaced them, reducing the sensory input by half for the impressionable set. Telephone is a landline- only one- and no-one in the house can carry it around and chat, chat, chat endlessly. The TV is a 1986 and works great if you Really Want to see something. If your desire to view is just so-so, you don't spend the energy, since the screen is small, the colors very pastel, and it's a far cry from HD. Kids watch about two hours a month, and they aren't begging for more. Cell phones lack photo and other fancy features.

I make a point of going to see neighbors to talk about things rather than call. I try to do email before the kids come down or after they are in bed since I've found they hate it when I'm in front of the computer. Well, I hate it when they are, so that seems fair.

We have a CD player from the '80's but lots of instruments. I try to sing old songs so kids have a sense of the oral tradition humans employed for so many millenia.

I'm sure some of my friends (and readers here) will think it's crazy to purposely pare media so far down. That my kids won't be able to "compete" in the modern world. I strongly disagree. In a time of increasingly scattershot thinking, daily overload, and a stress-laden culture, my kids will be well-trained in the commitment required to start and finish a deep, good book. And as my husband has said, "It's never too late to learn to watch TV (or myspace or ipod or all the other media junk food)."

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:11 AM, I think you have confused me with WenG.

Jet City mom said...

We have a CD player from the '80's but lots of instruments

I don't even remember CD players from the 80s
when I bought my first computer- in I think 1991?

It was a huge purchase- motivated because my H had to use computers at work and he hated them. ( he still hates them- even though they made him take a laptop-)

It had 40 mb Hard drive!
and I think the Ram was 8 MB
Floppy drive, but CDs weren't widely available- ( the inventor graduated from my daughters college in 1953)

But anyway-
I think its great that we have different avenues to gain information and for creative expression.
The key is always- just like a good nutritional diet- is variety :)

However there are some things I think are BAD- most times
TVs in bedrooms
Entertainment centers in bedrooms so that you never see each other
Any sort of electronic use less than an hour or two before bed.
Babies watching TV.
Children watching the 11 oclock news
One thing I do really like is watching movies with my D.
IT can be pretty difficult to bring things up with her, but I have found that if I pick a movie that the situation comes up, I can then casually discuss it, in that context.
More neutral- less invasive.
Works better with younger than older
Oh I have a question.
How much time is spent in class watching movies?
Some schools/classes, seem to do quite a bit.
Yes often they are tied to something they are reading in class- but sometimes- I wonder about the choices since I rarely if ever have seen any permission slips come home.
I haven't objected, but I think that parents should be aware of what the kids are watching.

Anonymous said...

"Works better with younger than older
Oh I have a question.
How much time is spent in class watching movies?
Some schools/classes, seem to do quite a bit.
Yes often they are tied to something they are reading in class- but sometimes- I wonder about the choices since I rarely if ever have seen any permission slips come home."

That is because the school only needs your consent if they are showing an R rated movie or a PG-13 rated movie to students under 13. http://www.seattleschools.org/area/policies/c/C24.00.pdf

Christina said...

He had read the first three Harry Potter books, but said he had no particular interest in reading more.

That's my experience, and I've been a constant reader since I was a little over three. Harry Potter doesn't lead all non-readers to the pleasure of the book, and it's not even addictive for many bibliophiles.

My five-year-old has more Gameboy and YouTube exposure than I'd like. We do rent DVDs and videocassettes. We also regularly go to the library, and he has a collection of books, and he frequently reads on his own, for pleasure. His recent literary interests have been Tintin and Strange Mr. Satie, a biography about an eccentric French composer. He does like adventuring into genre-crossing fiction and improvisation: he wanted me to read Thomas the Tank Engine Railroad Rhymes substituting the names of the four Marx Brothers for the engines. The sacrifices I make (in this case, my sanity) to keep my little one entertained by stories. I think it may be time to turn him onto Treasure Island and other age-appropriate adventure books.

Jet City mom said...

Re harry Potter-
my 17 yr old, on her week break between adventures- has put college tours on hold so that she and her friends can get Harry Potter when it is released at midnight.
( When I was her age- the midnight adventure was Rocky Horror)

The challenges of an early reader is finding enough interesting books that are thematically appropriate.
Luckily my oldest loved Pioneers and the Ingalls Wilder books kept her busy for a long time.
( then when her class stayed overnight at Pioneer farms in 1st grade- she was in heaven)

My youngest didn't read early- but she loved books on tape. The Hobbit and The Giver were favorites & I remember the Maurice Sendak/Carole KIng opera " Really Rosie" every night for at least a year

( I have never read Treasure Island, but I used to love Island of the Blue Dolphins although I don't think my D read it till she was 7)