March 11, 2008

A New Kind of Storytime

I'm sad to say that readers in America are few and far between these days. I just read this bleak little article in Poets & Writers Magazine about the lack of readers in our country. Fewer than one-third of American thirteen-year-olds read for pleasure every day, according to The National Endowment for the Arts, and the 15-24 crowd is reading for only seven minutes a day on average. Though they are still squeezing in their two hours of TV time. According to Timothy Shanahan, past president of the International Reading Association (such a thing really exists!) the lack of reading is not the fault of the TV; kids say they don't like to read because it's lonely. Huh?

I think that's backwards. Reading is the perfect cure for loneliness, but it does also take a little imagination. Maybe TV is not to blame for the decline in reading, but I think it is absolutely to blame for sucking a child's imagination right out of her brain. If I remember correctly from Psych 101, when people read, our brains take a little trip into a hypnotic state, and it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that a child who has little or no practice entering that hypnotic state will have more difficulty getting there with a book. TV watchers don't have to use their imaginations; the entertainment is all done for them, and they don't have to be patient for it, either.

Don't get me wrong, I've watched more than my fair share of TV. I could still tell you the order of the shows I watched every day in middle school from the time I got home until I dragged myself to bed, and there was nothing educational in the lot. I didn't really become a reader until I read Deenie in eighth grade. Judy Blume changed my life. So I have hope because I believe there's a Deenie out there for all of those seven minute readers-- the one book that pulls at them and makes them realize how many delicious word worlds there are, just waiting-- and I have an idea about how to bring them together!

Ok, it's more of a dream at this point, but I was thinking about how much I love library storytime-- the crinkly sound of a book cover being opened by a friendly librarian still makes me feel glowy all over-- but it's only available to the kids whose parents take them to the library. I'm concerned about the kids who've never seen the inside of a library. I want them to have storytime, too-- feel the glow-- and I want to bring it to them.

I want to become the crazy storytime-at-the-laundromat lady. I want to read stories aloud at the BART station, the bus station, the swap meet, the DMV!-- places where people are hanging around with kids who have nothing better to do than sit down and hear a tale. I want to do this because, while I'm frightened by the idea of a country run by citizens who don't read, I'm even more disturbed by the idea of a country with no imagination. What will become of us?

So, there I am, just me and my book (and maybe a couple of undercover child volunteers) reading aloud, changing America one story at a time. Can you hear the uplifting, patriotic music in the background?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will come listen to you read. I love a good story.