Sunday, January 16, 2011

A book for Christmas? Are you kidding?

        I was speaking at a middle school a few years ago, telling the kids about my next teen novel, when a boy eagerly volunteered his dad to work with me as an expert on the sport I was writing about.
        “Perfect!” I said. When his bemused father agreed to help me with background, I gave the boy an autographed copy of one of my books to thank him.
        “He couldn’t put it down,” the father told me during one of our meetings.
        “That’s great!” I replied. “So now you know what to get him for Christmas -- another book from my series!”
        The father blanched. “Oh no, I’d never get him a book for Christmas. He’d kill me.”

       I was too stunned to respond. Imagine! A middle-school boy was enthused about reading (fiction, even), and his father was convinced that he didn’t need to support or encourage that. Here was a dad who believed that his son’s interest in electronic gadgets and sports equipment should overrule a golden opportunity to send a message about the importance of reading. (Why not gift the boy with both?) The father, a successful businessman, told me he had not been a strong reader himself as a child. Clearly, he was projecting his own childhood feelings about books onto his son -- and at an age where children (especially boys) are in desperate need of strong role-modeling from parents on the importance of reading.
       I loved that this dad was a dedicated farther who spent time with his son, especially on sports activities. But there’s just one piece of information this father was missing: In today’s information age, reading is key to academic achievement like never before. With each passing generation, it’s harder and harder to achieve business or any other type of success without more reading and education than one’s parents had. Today’s college degree is equivalent to yesterday’s high school degree. And children whose interest in reading wanes before high school are the ones most likely to be left behind.
        For too long, parents have assumed that teaching their kids to read was the school’s job. But a comfort with reading begins at home, and special efforts to encourage reading are never more important than in fourth grade and beyond. That's why in February 2011 I'm launching, with a friend, The Keen Readers Foundation. I'll reveal the website address as soon as it goes live. It's dedicated to youth literacy, and offers parents and mentors the support they need to get or keep their children reading. More about that soon, I promise.

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