Sunday, January 12, 2014

Raising Readers

In our house, Saturday evenings mean puzzles and projects. A few weeks ago, while my daughter and I worked a particularly boring puzzle of kittens in a basket, we talked about our most recent literary projects. We trade notes. 

“Elizabeth could still remember the sun on her face,” I said with a Katherine Hepburnesque quiver. I asked for my daughter’s feedback. 

She rolled her eyes (a chronic issue that almost all 12 year olds contract). 

“That. Is. Boring.” Her gentle critique came in groans before she read aloud her own project’s first line. “Emily gripped the knife tightly in her pocket. She knew what she had to do.” 

At that moment I realized one hard fact: I am raising my own literary competition. 

As parents, we strive to teach our children as well as we can given our own limitations. We play symphonies to unborn bellies full of potential. We buy them books knowing full well that they will be slathered in apple sauce and drool. We sit for tedious hours while our little ones sound out the words c-a-t, and only sometimes do we shout, “cat! CAT! For the love of god, it spells cat!”

We are creating the new and thriving literary culture one book at a time. 

My own parents were avid book readers. The breakfast table was always a quiet one. My siblings and I would gnash our bran flakes in the morning grog while our parents travelled through time and space over coffee. My father wanted to lead through example.

But this act was a passive one, and the examples given weren’t received. Apart from the back of the shampoo bottle, I didn’t read anything until I turned twenty. 

It stands to reason: A U.S. Federal study done in 2003 showed that 1 in 7 adults were technically illiterate. But even though I could in fact read, I did not. And notes that 50% of American adults cannot read above an 8th grade reading level. This is a result of a few decades full of a passive reading culture. 

However, there is hope. Reading statistics show that 56% of young people read more than 10 books a year. Literacy programs all over the U.S. and abroad reach new and emergent readers every day, and it’s all thanks to the active approach we as parents and educators toward creating a new reading culture. 

My daughter read 900,000 words last year approximately--dwarfing my own reading count. She tracks her literary travels online thanks to her school’s Applied Reading software. She enters reading competitions every year through the school and the local library. And even though she doesn’t win the new bike or the backpack full of goodies, she is getting a hell of a lot out of reading. 

She can argue with a literary compendium to back her every case. Though many of her arguments are based on Frodo or Katniss, she possesses the confidence to stand her ground. She escapes from the doldrums and trials of being a tween in a pair of Travelling Pants or a Glass Elevator. She writes stories which are better than anything I’ll ever be able to pen. 

 I’m not complaining (much). Our kids might very well get book deals before we do. But this just shows that we have raised them well. We are in the process of raising our children to be active readers and writers. We are raising a hungry new batch of book buyers and bookmakers. And our competition is getting better every day.

But don’t worry, friends: If we do succeed in child-rearing, then we can chip away at our novels, one word at a time, from the comfort of our famous children’s guest house. 

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