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Getting Children to Read

The Martha Stewart Show, April 2008

Jon Scieszka was recently named the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress, a very serious title for an author who wants to make reading fun again.

Children in general aren't reading like they used to: A recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts showed that the percentage of 13- to 17-year-olds who read daily for fun dropped from 31 percent to 22 percent between 1984 and 2004. The amount they read for school has not changed. Boys generally take longer to learn to read than girls; they read less and are less enthusiastic about it; and they have more trouble understanding narrative texts yet are better at absorbing informational texts, according to a literacy study done in 2002. Part of this is biological and part of it is sociological, says Scieszka, who started a website,, full of reading lists that boys really respond to. The children's author is on a mission to get more children reading and has several great tips to share.

Broaden the Definition of Reading
To get kids excited about reading, it's important to broaden the definition of reading itself. Many parents worry about their kids reading comic books, magazines, or graphic novels, but they shouldn't. The thing teachers and librarians can do is to step back and take a look at their required-reading lists: They don't have to be all fiction, they can include alternative genres, and they should absolutely include some nonfiction. Humor is another genre that gets slighted -- you don't see that many funny books on required-reading lists, as people often think that humorous books aren't legitimate.

Embrace Other Technologies
Don't demonize other technologies. Embrace the Internet, television, and video games. Yes, these can take time away from reading, but kids enjoy technology. Many are reading blogs, which is reading material; the idea is to show kids how to incorporate technology into reading. For instance, you can recommend they go to an author's website to learn more about the author and a book's characters. You can encourage them to further research a topic of interest. Even TV and movies can be incorporated: Suggest that kids read a book that has been made into a movie or a TV show and ask them to evaluate the differences between both.

Be a Good Role Model
One of the most important things a child needs to be an avid reader is to be raised in a house with adults who like to read. Keep reading material available in your home and let your children see you read books, magazines, and newspapers regularly. Also, create a comfortable reading space in your home.

Avoid the Reading "Death Spiral"
It's extremely important to avoid "the death spiral," which goes like this: Kids don't read, then they become worse at reading because they aren't reading, then they read even less because it is hard, and then they see themselves as nonreaders. This is why parents and educators must let kids see that reading can be fun -- don't let books become associated only with school and tests.

Special thanks to Jon Scieszka for sharing this information, and for giving copies of his books, "The Stinky Cheese Man" and "Smash! Crash!," to our studio audience. For more information on the Children's Book Council, visit To vote for the Children's Choice Book Awards, visit

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