READING ON THE DECLINE In her book Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Lifelong Readers, Teri S. Lesesne shares some shocking statistics that demonstrate the need for a higher level of literacy in the U.S. “First,” Teri begins, “90 percent of all the books purchased in the United States each year are purchased by as little as 10 percent of the population.” A bit shocking yes, especially for all those bibliophiles out there who frequent bookstores. Teri continues, “The second statistic is even more disturbing. The average American adult reads fewer than three books per year for pleasure. And America leads the world in the amount of pleasure reading done annually.” These statistics are tough to swallow, but many feel as if there is little that can be done to change the habits of adults. The last statistic is the most severe and it is not about adults. “Finally, more than 75 percent of teens graduating from high school indicate that they will never read another book again. Think of this: in a typical graduating class, four out of five students who cross the stage to accept their diploma are rejoicing because they never have to read again!” It just sends shivers down my spine.
Why do so many hate reading? I blame Dick and Jane. If you are unfamiliar with the Dick and Jane books it is probably because you weren’t an elementary school student between 1930 and 1970. Dick and Jane are the two main characters in a series of early readers. A sample passage from a Dick and Jane Book:
Come and see.
Come and see.
Come and see Spot.
Look and see.
Boring. Just dull. The language, though simple enough for youngsters to understand, is in no way interesting or engaging. You may not even be able to tell what is happening in the story without the aid of the illustrations. Truth be told, there really isn’t much happening at all. Now, I don’t mean to vilify Dick and Jane. The Dick and Jane books were quite groundbreaking as early literature for children. Dick and Jane taught many to read. They are just lacking in one key area: fun.
THE DOCTOR AND THE CAT In 1957 a small revolution in children’s literature was started when The Cat in the Hat was published by Random House. The Cat in the Hat has had such an impact on children’s books that it, and other titles, have propelled author Theodor Seuss Geisel to near-legendary status. Better known as Dr. Seuss, Geisel was already a successful author and illustrator when he decided to take a stab at the early reader market. From a list of 250 words Seuss looked for the first two that rhymed and built a story around them using the rest of the words on the list. A well-known passage from The Cat in the Hat:
Then we saw him step in on the mat!
And we saw him!
The Cat in the Hat!
And he said to us,
“Why do you sit there like that?”
“I know it is wet
and the sun is not sunny.
But we can have
lots of good fun that is funny!”
So, while Dick and Jane spend entire books telling each other to look at their dog, Sally, her brother, and The Cat break every rule in the house, make a gigantic mess and clean it all up in just before Mom comes home. Which book would you rather read?
The whole paper is about ten times that length. If any of you read this whole post then bravo. Myself, I normally don't read blog posts this long that don't include pictures.