Monday, June 30, 2014

What's Happening to Young Readers These Days?

Summer is here and I can't wait to check the books out of the library that I put on my "Summer Reading List" all year long. No, I didn't say download a book. I love going to the library any time of year, but summers are my favorite times. As I walked through the door the other day, I was struck by the fact that there were very few children there. 

Why were there so few children at the library? Unlike the years I was growing up, children's libraries today burst with color. Floor to ceiling stuffed giraffes. Over-stuffed comfy chairs. Art work everywhere. Displays of books everywhere...So where are the children?

What's happening to many of our young readers these days?

I can remember getting lost in books. How many times would I be so absorbed in a great book that I wouldn't hear my mother tell us it was time for dinner. I'd be riding the Black Stallion across the sand dunes of Arabia or clicking my heels with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  

Those hazy, crazy days of summer and we kids read as many books as we could. Our local library ran book contests. Whoever read the most books, won. Won what? I don't remember! What was important to me was challenging myself to read as many books as I could. 

I'd go to the library with my friends and we'd scoop armfuls of books off the shelves, balancing them with our chins and swaying one way or the other, when the pile was off kilter. Sitting around the square wooden tables, we'd chitter chatter about each one. When I got my very first library card I thought i had died and had gone to heaven. I laminated it with clear contact paper and put it on the top of my dresser so it would always be in sight. 

Because we lived so close to the beach, but not close enough to walk, mothers planned times they'd drive us down for the day. We'd stuff our beach bags with radios (there were no iPads in those days!), sunscreen, food and binoculars. Huge ships often passed by in the distance and we tried to see the names on the ships or try to see their flags so we could figure out what country owned them.

On the top of our beach bag stuffing list were books. Which one would be the best to take to the beach? A mystery? a fiction book about horses? Nonfiction (not likely), science fiction? (maybe) A boy meets girl innocent type of story? In those days, there were no racy tweenie books, no books filled with extremely descriptive situations. They were innocent, "leave it to your imagination" types of stories that we girls giggled about.

Words were mesmerizing. Each time I came across a word I didn't know, I'd pull the huge Webster's Dictionary off my book shelf and look it up. 

Look it up??? That's the expression Mrs. Granger always shouted in the book Frindle! Love that book! 

She was so right. If you don't know what a word means.. well then... LOOK IT UP!!! Yes, we teachers encourage using context clues to figure out meanings of words, however, the dictionary provides us with invaluable information. The origin, parts of speech, one or several definitions, examples of the words in sentences and more. 

Doing a dictionary Google search isn't like handling those big old dictionaries. I vividly recall the smell of the pages.  The weight, the thinness of the paper. I was mortified, one day, when I turned a page too quickly and it ripped. I'll never forget it. Never. I was about seven and I asked my mother if I could write an apology to Mr. Webster.  She said she was sure he'd understand. 

So, what's happening to our young readers these days? Texting their friends, instead of reading. Playing video games on the computer, instead of reading. Asking parents the definitions of words instead of looking it up in good old Mr. Webster's Dictionary. Pulling up websites with summaries of books instead of reading books word by word, page by page. 

One day I had three students ask me to suggest a good book from my class library. They turned up their noses when I pulled one particular book off the shelf. Why? Because the cover was so worn and tired, you could barely read the title. I told them that I'd read the book because have a worn cover means it's been read time and time again, so people must love the story.

"Why else would the cover be so worn and tired looking," I asked them.

One looked at me and asked "REALLY? Okay, how many people read this book?" 
"Oh, at least a million people," I replied.
"No way"
"Yes, way"

Before I could state another "rather untrue, exaggerated" fact, they were discussing who would read the book first. I slipped away quietly as I heard one say "I'll read it first and then give it to you. You can give it to .....

I made one small step that day... And will continue working my magic so all young people will value "REAL" books they can hold in their hands... 


P.S  I highly recommend reading "The Book Thief" this summer.  Sarah's Key is another, I highly recommend. 

Did you add these titles on your Summer Book List? :)

Have a great summer, everyone!