I’m trying to squeeze some adult books back into my reading diet, and am currently reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma. Today, after working the last Friday that the library will be open until the fall, I came home and chipped away at The Reading Promise (after falling asleep, book in hand, for a bit, since I couldn’t sleep last night and am pooped). I really like the subject of the book – a father reading aloud to his daughter for eight years – and have enjoyed the book so far. In my usual manner, though, I flipped to the end of the book after getting to page seventy-six this afternoon (I know, it’s a bad habit, but one I can’t seem to break) and read the account of how Ozma’s father left his position of school librarian under pressure from his principals. Her father is clearly a man who values reading aloud, and was told by his principals (his work load had been doubled by the addition of a second school) that he could only read one picturebook to each class, for no more than five or ten minutes. Ozma quotes her father as saying, “The most frustrating part…is that reading has become irrelevant.”
I know what he means, which saddens me, but I also do hold out some hope. The truth in what he says is evidenced every day after school at the library where I work, which is a public library but located on the school campus, so that we get many students at the library after school lets out. I hear from these elementary school students, over and over again, “Abby, I’m BORED!” To which I suggest, gently, that they take a look at some of the great books in the children’s room. And I often get rolled eyes in response, since what “I’m bored” really means here is, “The only internet-access computer in the children’s room that we’re allowed to play games on is being used by someone else.” So then I’ll counter with a suggestion to look at one of the good children’s magazines that we have on the shelves, or perhaps even to do their homework. But then comes a heavy sigh and a repetition of, “I’m bored.” At those moments, I do feel like reading has become irrelevant for a certain portion of today’s kids.
But then I remind myself what I used to do after school each day, and it usually wasn’t read. I liked to have a nice snack first thing after getting home, then sometimes I’d watch a bit of bad daytime T.V., then, if the weather was good, I’d go outside and either play with other kids in the neighborhood or play by myself in the backyard. Or, if the weather was bad, I’d often do some kind of art project, like work on my collection of paper shoes (hand-decorated paper “slides” that were held together with staples). Reading, though, was usually a weekend and vacation activity for me; but it wasn’t where I headed after a long day of sitting still at school.
And here’s where my hope for this rising generation of readers comes in: I know many, many kids who come to the library after school who literally get lost in the stacks. I’ll know that I’ve seen Brenda come in to the children’s room, but when her mom comes to pick her up, neither of us can find her. Until we look through the stacks and find Brenda curled up against a bookshelf, nose in a book, completely oblivious to the world around her. Brenda and her peers are far more dedicated readers than I ever was, and I turned out ok when it comes to reading. So even though there is a push to have more technology instruction in schools, and even though some schools have emptied their libraries of books, I really do believe that there are enough passionate readers growing up in our society to keep books and reading alive and healthy for many more years. And hopefully libraries, too.