If Harry Can't Do It, Who Can?
I know I say it all the time, but seriously, I LOVE National Public Radio. I listen to it everyday on my way to and from work and I'm always amazed at how many interesting stories there are out there. And they're not just 1 minute stories with cutesy soundbytes - the reporters tell a full story (and I love the way they use sound in the background for say a busy street market while they're speaking).
Anyway, I caught this topic today, Summer Reading and Harry Potter. In case you've been living in a cave for the past three weeks, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment of the Harry Potter series, will be released on July 21st and has brought about the usual discussions of children and their reading habits.
I'd always heard praise for the series because it was credited with getting millions of kids reading. And while not wanting to take away from what author J.K. Rowling has accomplished, it appears that while kids may be reading Harry Potter they aren't reading much else. As David Mehegan talked about today on NPR, and in a July 9th article in the Boston Globe, a recent survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts titled "Reading at Risk" found that leisurely reading among teens and adults has actually declined.
The New York Times wrote about the same topic in today's edition. Reporter Motoko Rich writes that the percentage of kids who say they read for fun drops from 43% of fourth graders to only 19% of eighth graders. And why is that?
Some believe it's television, although studies don't seem to show any kind of increase in television viewing between the age groups. The consensus seems to be that there are just SO MANY things competing for children's time - television, video games, music, the Internet, text messaging, cell phones and don't forget those traditional activities of going to the movies with friends, athletics and just plain old hangin' around.
I would say that I experienced a similar decline in my own reading life. I was an avid reader for much of my young life and then right around my freshman or sophomore year in high school - I just sort of stopped. Reading became a homework assignment; something I had to do; books assigned to me by teachers I felt didn't understand me and had no idea what I'd like to read.
It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I returned to the wonderful world of reading for pleasure. I started with fiction - my first love - but have branched out in recent years with plenty of non-fiction which includes some of my favorite magazines. While I don't pretend to represent all kids, I think my experience is pretty common. It was, at least, among my own friends at the time.
So maybe kids aren't all that different today than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Maybe we're just taking more notice because of our fear of "losing" them to a world of technology that we as adults don't fully understand.
What I hope is that those kids who don't read just for the sheer pleasure of it right now will find themselves devouring all that they missed out on in 10 years or so because making my way back to books - smelling those new, never touched, crisp, clean pages of a good novel - has been one of the best experiences (and continues to be) of my life.