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Questions and Answers

Multiple Ways to Encourage Reading

Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page A12

Sharon Grover, who is the youth services selections specialist at the Arlington Public Library, is responsible for choosing books for children from infancy through high school. Staff writer Valerie Strauss asked her about young people and reading.

Q When you choose books, do you think of the audience you are trying to reach in terms of gender?


"You want to encourage all kinds of reading," says youth reading specialist Sharon Grover, helping Kevin Green, 10, find books at Arlington Public Library. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

A I make decisions based on who the audience will be, but I truly don't think, "Oh, I've already bought 10 books for girls, so I need to buy 10 books for boys."

You've said your own son stopped reading in the middle of elementary school. What did you do? What can other parents do?

What we did when he stopped reading was to back off. . . . I just shut up. But I had friends that he really liked who asked him to read things and would suggest things they loved. He would, of course, take their word over anything his mother would say. Sometimes it can be a teacher or another person the child really likes. And maybe a man.

So parents pushing their kids isn't the way to go?

No, no, it doesn't usually work. . . .

Another thing we did was to start to listen to audio books. I started listening to be a reviewer. Then, when we were in the car, my son would listen, too, but he would pretend that he wasn't at all interested. When we got out, he would say, "Don't you dare listen without me."

What does that do for kids who don't want to read?

Parents think it is the easy way out. We hear all the time, "Isn't it cheating?" But the research shows it is not cheating at all. It is not only good for struggling readers and English-language learners, it is also good for accomplished readers.

Why?

There is a lot of research on the efficacy of listening in terms of learning reading skills. It builds vocabulary, it models fluency and proper pronunciation. It improves comprehension, especially for auditory learners. . . . In fact, in Arlington, the English and language arts departments [at the public schools] have started to allow some kids to listen to audio books to fulfill their reading assignments. . . .

Audio books for kids tend not to circulate as much because parents are under the misapprehension that children don't commute. But in this day and age, they do. You are taking them to a lot of activities. . . .

When we make summer reading lists, we actively look for books where there is a good audio edition so kids can do either.

You must like to see children read great books. How do you define literature?

It's the writing. Is it formulaic? Really predictable? Does it have something in there that makes you think of something other than the obvious. But there is nothing wrong with the stuff that is not literature, either. It can be really helpful for children to read books with a formula. That helps them gain confidence in reading.

What do you think about nonliterary reading?

Our central library supervisor, Chang Liu, has two boys, 6 and 9. The 9-year-old is a voracious reader and the 6-year-old is not. [The 6-year-old] loves GameBoy, so she bought him a subscription to a Nintendo magazine, and he reads it from cover to cover. Until you really are a strong reader, the process is the most important thing. If you can't get the process down, you can't read fluently. That takes you back to books with formulas. They help kids gain confidence they need to become fluent. You want to encourage all kinds of reading.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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