Monday, November 26, 2007

Reading for Pleasure, Part I

Sara Reading; cut paper; Copyright, 2007

According to a recent NEA report, (read about it in the Boston Globe) almost 20% of teens never read for pleasure, and, even worse, almost half of Americans aged 18 to 24 never read a book for pleasure. While many smart people have since debated both the report's accuracy and the significance of the results, I am nonetheless convinced that pleasure reading at any age has many benefits, not the least of which is pleasure, and I know there are too many people who haven't discovered how wonderful books (and other reading materials) can be. This is important to me because people who read for pleasure tend to be better educated, more successful, happier, thinner, etc. than people who don't. Also, most importantly, they are more likely to buy the books I write and illustrate.

I'm lucky enough to have three teen/young adult kids (daughter age 15, sons 17 and 19) who love to read. I'm also wise and humble enough to realize that genes, the influences of other people, and of course, luck have probably played as big a role in making them readers as I have. Nonetheless, from watching the development of pleasure readers and nonreaders among my kids and their friends, and from encouraging readers during my past life as a child therapist and teacher, I have gleaned some tips that might increase the odds of making your older child a reader. I'm mostly skipping the standard, well-supported ideas and going with my family's quirky strategies. Here are my first five tips -- I'll try to follow up with more soon.

1. Lower your standards By all means, stock your kids' bookshelves with some award-winners and great literature -- but also provide plenty of series books, collections of favorite comic strips, books that are too young for your kids, books featuring fart/gross humor, action-adventure stories, romance novels -- whatever floats your kids' boats. There's actually research supporting the unique ability of "formula fiction" (code expression for junky series books, whether Nancy Drew or Janet Evanovich) to build kids' reading fluency and comprehension skills. And my own experience is that junk books are the literary equivalent of marijuana; they're a gateway substance to trying and getting hooked on more serious stuff.

2. Cherish books with cracked spines and dog ears It means they've been read rather than preserved on the shelf, and it means your kids aren't growing up so afraid of damaging a book that they're afraid to touch one. There's nothing wrong, of course, with encouraging your kids to use book marks and to refrain from leaving their books in the puddle of milk next to the cereal bowl, but don't go so overboard that you make books the equivalent of fragile heirlooms (and if you have books in that category, lock them up until your kids are older. Well, grown.) Contrary to what the school librarian may have led you to believe, treating a book with less than perfect respect will not turn you into a pervert or worse. Heck, I used to color in my favorite books, and I'm not yet a mass murderer.

3. Keep books in the bathroom The tub in our first floor bathroom is so small that no one uses it for bathing anymore -- and over the last few years, it has slowly but surely filled up with books that people enjoy reading while on the john. (It's probably a good idea to grab the Purell after handling one of them...) This tip is not a good idea if you have too few bathrooms -- since one of the main side effects of keeping books in the bathroom is that people spend way more time in there.

One of my own favorite rituals as a teenager was soaking for hours in the clawfoot tub on our third floor while reading one of the "bathtub" books stored in the bookcase across from it (that was a wonderfully big bathroom). Our bathtub books were mostly tear jerkers like Love Story by Erich Segal, "outgrown" favorite middle grade novels like The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken , and humorous memoirs like My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell and Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson -- but depending on your kids' reading tastes and gender, you might need a very different selection. Such was the power of those books and that experience that I can quote long passages from most of them, and my sisters and I still squabble over custody of the original water-stained copies.

4. Teach this equation: Waiting = Reading Before heading off to the dentist's office at my house, the scramble isn't so much to floss for the first time in months (though it should be), but to find where the heck you left your book. I'm actually disappointed if there's not much of a wait.

Last night, when I took my oldest to the airport for his flight back to school, we had to turn around and come home, not because he forgot his ticket or his cell phone, but for something equally essential -- his book. And one of my kids even brings a paperback to Kennywood, the local amusement park, so he can read while he stands in line. As a bonus, my kids are much less impatient about long waits than most kids are.

5. Get audio books rather than DVDs when you head off on a long trip It's much more fair to the driver, who can't (or at least shouldn't) watch the DVD along with everyone else, and it builds listening muscles amazingly well. Choose books wisely - suspense, action, humor, etc. are especially important if you're stuck in a traffic jam or wedged between your annoying little brother and the laundry basket of smelly beach towels. We get most of our selections from the library and always grab more books than it seems like we need, in case one (or more) turns out to be a dud.

    Okay, more tips in a few days. Now get busy hanging shelves in the john.

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    I'm Thankful

    copyright, Carol Baicker-McKee, 2007
    Hm. Don't really have a great image for this post (though who could fail to be thankful for tasty treats like gingerbread men). But anyway, here's a Top Ten List of things I'm thankful for:

    1. Family All of it - my immediate family of husband, three kids, and a dog; my extended family I grew up in, and my husband's extended family who have made me one of their own. It's hard to say something about all of them that's not trite or too general, but here are some of the specific things about them I'm thankful for. I love how my immediate family routinely laughs so hard at the dinner table that we not only have to worry about milk coming out of someone's nose but the occasional spaghetti noodle - which the dog will be happy to eat if it ends up on the floor; I am grateful that my growing-up family never tires of huge annual gatherings at the beach (and grateful that my parents continue to fund these vacations), complete with ritual toad-catching and crab-chasing; and I'm thankful that my husband's family always makes up songs with hilarious lyrics to celebrate special occasions, and especially grateful that they let me sing along with everyone despite my severe tone deafness and complete ignorance of tempo.

    2. Friends Having moved a bazillion times over the years and also having lots of friends who have moved (and now having internet-found friends), I'm lucky to have friends wherever I go, and less fortunately, some places I don't go but wish I could. Like my family, I know my friends will do kind things like ooh and ahh kindly over my latest book project (and even buy copies for gifts, even if they have to kind of stretch to pinpoint an appropriate recipient). And when I get a bad haircut, my friends don't say things like, "Oh well, it'll grow out again someday," but more tactful things like, "Doesn't the part look nice!"

    3. Child #2 has almost finished his college applications And I'll be really, really grateful when they're well and truly done.

    4. Affording college tuition So far at least. Child #3 should probably lie awake worrying a little...

    5. Living the creative life How lucky to be working as a writer, illustrator, and kid-advice person! It doesn't get any better than this! (Well, the money part could get better, especially from the points of view of my husband, who would dearly love to be a house husband/amateur athlete and child #3 who doesn't want to lie awake worrying about her college fund.) And some people think it would be better if I didn't live the creative life all over the kitchen table and in big piles in their bedroom that they'd like to use when they come home from college for vacations.

    6. That this past year I had one book published, finished one that will be out next year, and got a contract for another And that one's nearing completion. I hope.

    7. The disgusting growth on the dog's leg that I've been ignoring for months isn't cancer Phew. The guilt was going to be pretty unbearable.

    8. Gas prices that have risen enough that it's cheaper to fly child #1 home from college for breaks like this than to drive 9 hours each direction to fetch him.

    9. Dark chocolate is good for you. And so is red wine. Now we just have to work on Fritos.

    10. That the world is so full of good books, good people, and the internet, which I'm addicted to.

    11. That ending a sentence with a preposition isn't as sinful as it used to be.

    12. That this list could be in the 100s or more before I ran out of things to be grateful for, and I had to cheat by 2 even to wrap this up.

    Thank you to all the people who have given me so much to be grateful for this past year. I hope I can repay you - and find a way to pay things forward too, in the years to come.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    You're invited!

    Grab some buddies and shuffle on over!

    Who: You, of course, and Julie Stiegemeyer, author, and me, Carol Baicker-McKee, illustrator
    What: A book signing/holiday book fair for Merry Christmas, Cheeps!
    When: From 11 to noon on Saturday, November 17, 2007. (I'll actually be there a bit earlier, around 10:30).
    Where: The Barnes & Noble at South Hills Village Mall, Pittsburgh PA
    Why: Because it will be fun! Plus it's a good chance to acquire a special book for a gift or for your own holiday collection.

    Please join us!