Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Children's Library Open Its Doors Again

I should start out by saying I did a really cool speaking/signing event this weekend. One that got me thinking.

What made it so cool was that it took place at the Grand Re-Opening of the Palo Alto Children's Library. The very idea of a community library devoted solely to books for children is a heady one. When I mentioned to a wonderful woman named Maya—who was the heart and soul and spirit behind this grand makeover—that I could not think of another library like this one, she said there are just a few others. What a shame! Imagine if every community could have one!

I must say thank you to everyone who volunteered to make the event so successful (the sizeable turnout ended up being well informed and well cupcaked!) and to Kepler's Books & Magazines for inviting me to be the guest author at such a festive community celebration.

On a more note that's a bit more bloggy...

You simply must check out the 2007 National Assessment of Education Progress at Grades 4 and 8. I'll tell you, things look a little brighter in this report. There's much to be hopeful about in here. Here's one example: "Fourth graders in 2007 scored 2 points higher than in 2005 and 4 points higher than in 1992." There are oodles of interesting charts and factioids organized in a way that makes the whole thing easy to breeze through. Oh, and I did notice with some interest that girls still whup boys in reading in both age groups. DOH! You can download the report—in part or in whole—here. Let me know if anything in the report catches your eye.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

For Your Listening Pleasure

Most people have never heard of Horn Book magazine. But for those of us interested in the world of children's books, it's a biggee. One thing the magazaine has started recently is posting podcasts (easy-to-use online audio content) on their website. It a great example of how an online site can offer much richer, in-depth content than a magazine or newspaper. And it's really cool.

Check out the interview with author Jon Scieszka at their new podcast page. Best of all there's more content coming!

Now if I can get some of this kind of content on my website...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Kids Should Get Carded, Too!

Forget Visa, MasterCard and American Express, the most powerful piece of plastic you can carry in your purse, wallet, backpack or lunchbox is the library card. The free public library is truly one of the greatest, most underappreciated, most underused luxuries of modern society. Simply put, the library is a great place to hang out, explore, and be surprised.

And what do you know, this is Library Card Sign-Up Month! Learn more here.

C'mon, there are plenty of days left to treat the little ones in your life to their first "plastic." I see it every Saturday on our weekly visit. The kids I see get their first official "credit card" are thrilled. The power. The prestige. The possibilities.

Now if you get any lip about boring, fusty, dusty, stinky ol' books, don't stand for it. There's so much to do and discover at the library these days. Here's a good starter list of things you can do at your library from USA Today.

I realize in a blog like this I'm preaching to the choir, but spread the news. Encourage and remind people. And parents should do all they can to pop in with the kids at least every two weeks for 20 minutes or so—it's kind of a chore, yes, but it will have a lot more lasting value than picking up the dry cleaning. And mom and dad just might find something, too!

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Walk Between The Towers

This blog is about reluctant readers and getting kids to read more, not about me recommending books. But the idea for this post will simply not go away. It won't leave me alone. So here goes...

All the talk this week of the sixth anniversary of 9/11 got me thinking about one special book, one of my all-time favorite picture books. I pulled it off the shelf last night and read it to my son, and it's as good as ever.

My kids are really too young to remember 9/11—isn't that weird?—so they do not "get" the backstory behind The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. But they love the story.

The book's breathtaking illustrations and deceivingly simple text are a sweet and exciting retelling of a true story. It's the riveting tale of a young tightrope walker and thrill seeker named Philippe Petit who—with the help of a few friends—strings a cable between New York's almost-completed World Trade Center towers in 1974 and how he proceeds to spend one summer morning walking between them.

There's just something about that book that gets me every time. Maybe it's simply the tale of how someone took this magnificent pair of buildings and did a positive, creative, life-affirming thing with them. You can't help but consider in your mind as you read the story how others would later use these majestic structures for such a tragic, evil and destructive purpose. 9/11 is only mentioned in a very abstract way at the end, but it can be used as a way to gently introduce the story of what happened to those buildings.

So next time you're at the library or in a bookstore, pick it up and look through it. It's not just a Cadecott Medal winner, it's magical in some way that's hard to describe. Perhaps it's simply that Mr. Gerstein took a terrible, tragic event and through the creative process took some of that negative energy and—through the prism of his creativity—transformed it back into something positive again. Now that's magical.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Hey, Kids! Adults Don't Read Much Either!

I hear a lot about reluctant readers. As I've mentioned before, they tend to be stories about little boys and how they don't like to read.

I also read a lot of news stories about how big boys don't like to read much either, with adult men lagging far behind women in the book reading category—especially when it comes to fiction. This article from NPR entitled Why Women Read More Than Men is a prime example. (Although you have to ask yourself, if ESPN were to be outlawed, would this "reading gender gap" evaporate overnight?)

Then I read things that suggest that boys would read more in school if they just got assigned books with more action or stories that begin with white-knuckled chase scenes, like this USA Today editorial suggests.

There may be something to all of this; I know the Joe Sherlock series wins boys over with its over-the-top goofiness and respectful nod to the staples of third-grade humor. And I'll admit, I like to do a little gross-out humor in the first chapter because I know it's something that will catch the attention of those hard-to-hook boys.

After you noodle that for a bit, consider this story from CNN that basically says lots of adults aren't reading—that's both big boys and big girls. Almost 30%, or the spookier statistic of 1 in 4 adults, haven't read a book in the last year. And of those who have, the average is about 4 books a year. That ain't much. But of course, we expect our kids to be reading like maniacs—do as we say, not as we do!

So maybe we need to do a little more of leading by example. And maybe we need to do a little more thinking about what we assign—or encourage—our kids to read. C'mon, when most adults read fiction they're reaching for mysteries, thrillers, romance, horror and science fiction—I don't have any supporting statistics here, but who wants to argue with me? And why do adults read these type of books? Becasue they're fun to read! People will read if they're reading for pleasure; they won't read simple because it's "good" for them.

There's much to be mined here. And I'm on the case. This is something I'm going to have to look into. So stay tuned, and let's see if we can't come up with ways to get EVERYBODY reading more.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Getting Started Is The Tricky Part

A mom the other day at a signing event was telling me how hard it is to get her nine-year-old son to read a book. "I get him books and they just sit on his nightstand gathering dust," she said.

Sounds familiar. I hear this all the time. So I have her a simple piece of advice that works like a charm at our house:

Read the first few chapters aloud to him over the course of a few nights.

One of two things will likely happen: One, he'll be so intrigued by the third or fourth night that he'll take over and start reading to himself. Or two, you may become so involved in the book that you start to look forward to your reading aloud sessions; you may even find that you're enjoying the book almost as much as he does—or more.

I know it sounds too simple. And it's not always the easiest thing to do after a long day at work or dealing with everyday hustles and hassles. But it works.

Let's face it, getting started is the hardest part for any reluctant reader. Sometimes kids can be turned off simply because they can't pronounce the characters' names correctly. Or they can't quite figure out what's going on in the first two chapters; you can answer the questions, clarify the action for them, or help them grasp who the key characters are and how they fit together. Then the story takes over!

So many parents presume that once their child can read for themself, they're done with the reading aloud business. But that's just the beginning of so many hours of nestling together as you make your way through a great adventure. I read my girls the entire Gregor the Overlander series and I had a blast doing it. My wife read them all the Charlie Bone stories and they were all hooked. There's no better quality time than time spent reading together. Heck, this is when the stories get really good. It also shows your child that you value books and reading.

So if a child you know has trouble getting the ball rolling, I suggest you pick up that book and get the party started. Sometimes a little reading together time can create a whole lot of momentum.