Monday, February 21, 2011

The Joy of Open Libraries

By Tony Dirksen

I've never understood why libraries close on the holidays.

Mind you, I know that librarians, like the rest of us, need their days of rest. Especially librarians, who nowadays have to serve as combination information sources, computer experts, study hall monitors, and babysitters.

And I'm sadly aware of how budget squeezes have made a lot of librarians feel like they're in a thankless, unappreciated job. People like those of us at Keen Readers are keenly appreciative of the work they do. Still, most of us aren't nearly vocal enough in expressing our appreciation.

It's BECAUSE of that appreciation I think libraries should stay open on holidays.

Let me take a moment and tell you about my own growing-up reading experiences.

From a very early age, I've had a profound love of reading. In fact, I was able to read books of a somewhat advanced nature even when I was three and four years old, and that strictly by self training. I never told anybody, fearful that if I revealed my ability, something would go horribly wrong. Like the kid afraid of not getting any Christmas presents if he says Santa doesn't exist.

Growing up, books were my companions and my tutors. My loves of baseball and music and film were all taught to me in the stacks of my local library, located just around the block from my parents' home.

While here at Keen Readers we will be addressing many different opportunities and challenges for encouraging reluctant readers, I think there's nothing better for an emerging reader than having a library a short bike ride away around the block. A place where kids can be on their own without parents hovering overhead, where kids can be safe, and where they can find countless ways to explore the world.

I had the good fortune to grow up in such a place.

Most kids, of course, do not have my good fortune. They go to school in the morning, they go to soccer or basketball or little league in the afternoon, some of them may go to music lessons or tai kwan do or dance. And yes, they play video games and watch TV (probably stupid TV) and listen to their iPods way too loud.

Frankly, I might have done the same.

But if a kid is home on a holiday or a Sunday, and is bored with killing off the Covenant in Halo, and has nothing to do, and wants to get away from the house, he or she might, might, go to the public library. And they might discover that there are new worlds and new possibilities beyond anything they've experienced so far.

That's what books can do. Kids just need the time, and the place, where they can do it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Keen Readers' cover boys

      I looked through hundreds of stock photos before I chose the one that now graces the home page of Keen Readers. It was the effervescent grins that drew me to the two boys reading in a grassy, sunlit park. Weeks after our talented website designers Serenity Partners of Washington, D.C. completed the project and we went live, I found myself curious. Are the boys brothers? What were they reading? Are they always so happy? How old are they and where do they live?
      Ignoring the fact that it was a stock photo and I wasn’t supposed to be looking for a story behind it, I wrote the photographer, Andrey Shadrin.
      Imagine my delight when he replied. It turns out that Keen Readers’ cover boys are Alex, age 17, and Oleg, age six. They’re brothers, and Alex was always toting a book around that August while studying for exams. As they strolled through a park, Oleg was bored – he wanted to play. Alex flopped down on the grass, opened his schoolbook and pretended to read it while actually telling his little brother funny stories. Uncle Andrey snapped the photo and the rest is history.
      Except here’s a lovely surprise: The park is in Novosibirsk, Siberia. And yes, the brothers have now checked out the Keen Readers website and seen themselves hoisted to fame (well, just a little bit of fame). They and their mother are pleased, Andrey assures me. So, keep on reading and enjoying life, Alex and Oleg! And thanks for inspiring others to do the same.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Keen Readers website is now live

She's up! Did you hear the sound of the champagne bottle hitting her bow? The site is She just went live this week. My co-founder Tony Dirksen (a Seattle friend who just returned from his honeymoon) and I are very proud of her. We hope you'll find this website for parents of reluctant readers useful.
The site is not just for parents, however. Anyone fourth grade and up can participate in the youth writing contest. Each month, a winner receives an autographed book.Youths can also check out the book reviews, links and author interview.
Youths who have been reading buddies (read to a younger child, or been read to as a younger child) should write and tell us about their experience (400 to 700 words) -- another chance to win an autographed book! And if you've never been a reading buddy but would like to try it, please refer your favorite teacher, librarian, parent, community center director, religious institution leader, etc. to the site's section on how to start or find a reading buddy program.
Fellow authors, check out our Author Hero program. Send us an autographed book and we list you on a page that links directly to your website. The books will go to reading buddy programs all across North America that are in need of books.
Finally, if you run a reading buddy program, write and tell us about it. We may feature you, and we may donate books to your program.
I'll make this blog entry short, because Tony and I feel that the site speaks for itself. Go check it out:!