In a 2009 report on reading and literacy (Reading on the Rise), the National Endowment for the Arts found that “for the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature… This growth reverses two decades of downward trends cited previously in NEA reports such as Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read.” Are American’s children in sync with the adult trend towards reading more literature? At our recent strategic planning retreat, several Inprint Board members expressed concern that their children’s peers are not readers. Certainly, kids today encounter narrative through video and games to a much greater extent than I did growing up, or even 30-year-olds did. Have these forms of interactive narrative replaced reading a good book?
I can attest to the fact that there are still children here in Houston immersed in books, and good literature at that. Through Inprint’s Cool Brains! readings, which target 3rd through 7th graders, we have had the joy of witnessing throngs of avid readers. These kids, from diverse backgrounds and different parts of the city, come to our Sunday afternoon events with their parents, siblings, and friends, armed with thoughtful questions for the authors we present. They come to interact with the creators of worlds found only between two covers. They carry stacks of well-worn copies of beloved volumes or excitedly buy shining new ones. In signing lines that last up to two hours, many can be seen reading the top book on their stack, patiently moving forward to have a chance to meet one of their heroes. One young boy told Trenton Lee Stewart, author of the Mysterious Benedict Society Series, that he read Stewart’s latest book during every free moment he had, but at times he had to wrestle it away from his mother who was also having a hard time putting it down.
In the audience at the Stewart reading last month, almost every one of the children had read more than one of the 500-page books in the series. The fourth book had only been released by Little Brown Publishers two weeks before the event, yet more than 40 children had read it, too.
Being among these readers and listening to their insights is very inspiring. Of course, these crowds are self-selected, and there are many other young people who we’d love to inoculate with the love of reading. This will most likely continue to be a challenge for our society.
Join us on October 14th to visit this phenomena yourself, when iconic children’s writer Lois Lowry comes to Cool Brains!