Friday, March 27, 2015

Networking: What to Do About Kids and the Decline of Reading

If you've tuned in to my blog before, you know that the Networking posts are relatively new and are my direct response to and/or input on a recently published post from another writing-related blog. (Check out the first Networking post here.)

Today's post at the Writers Helping Writers site is (frighteningly) titled "Kids and the Decline of Reading, Part 1: What We Can Do At Home" by excellent author Becca Puglisi. (Read her full post here.)

It's no secret that younger and younger generations of kids --- while, admittedly, able to operate every single form of technology in existence (and some that have yet to be fully realized) straight out of the delivery room after having been born --- are less and less enamored of reading as a pastime, hobby, or (heaven forbid) required activity (in, say, a classroom). Puglisi herself sites a graphic from Jane Friedman's blog that explains how popular reading is for kids in various age groups compared to other activities.

The results are fairly horrific, especially to someone who not only works in the reading and writing industry but also loves what she does.

I grew up loving reading. My mother was a children's librarian, and we always had shelves and shelves of books around the house, easily within my reach. From birth, I had access to dozens of board books, on which I (quite literally) cut my teeth. To this day, I can still recite Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton without ever opening the book.

My mother tells a story that when I was eighteen months old, I trotted into a new library with her, bee-lined to the children's books section, pulled a book off the shelf, and said, "Mommy, look, it's Tomie dePaola." The librarian shelving books nearby nearly fell off her step ladder in her shock, but I would have recognized the beautiful illustrations and iconic font anywhere.

Remember Strega Nona and Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato? How about The Quilt Story, and The Legend of the Poinsettia, which is still a Christmas tradition in my family?

I credit my mother with my love for reading, which outlasted every tool the public school system and assorted undergraduate and graduate college courses tried to use to convince me that books were to be analyzed for Deep Meaning and Symbolism (yes, with capital letters) and not enjoyed. (But that's another blog post entirely.)

My mother gives credit to providing us kids (my siblings and me) with endless access to all kinds of books in nearly every genre known to man. She left books laying around everywhere for us to pick up, including the bathroom, the car, and our bedrooms. Large antique baskets filled with seasonal and holiday picture books were as crucial a part of the living room and family room decor as were the furniture pieces.

And she read to us. For years, at lunch time or after school, we sat at the dining room table with a meal or our snacks, and my mother sat across from us with a pile of books we had chosen for her to read ... usually six or eight, if memory serves. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr ... Rechenka's Eggs and Thunder Cake and Chicken Sunday and Babushka's Doll and Just Plain Fancy by Patricia Polacco ... Mouse Paint and Mouse Count by Ellen Stoll Walsh ... Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak ... Bread and Jam for Francis and A Baby Sister for Francis by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban ... 

And millions more.

It absolutely breaks my heart that kids today don't want to read anything, if they can help it. Fully one-third of high school graduates never read another book after graduation. More than 40% of college graduates never read another book after graduation. And 7 out of 10 (think about that) adults have not set foot in a bookstore in the past year. (See more recent, eye-opening statistics here.)

Good Lord. Something has to change.

Why do you think reading is declining among kids?

Is it public school? Parental non-involvement? The increase of technology? The fact that kids are getting access to technology practically from birth ("Here, Junior, play with my iPhone and stay quiet while I finish dinner")? Something else entirely?

And what do you recommend to fix the problem?

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