Are you turning a child into a reluctant reader?

By Michael Cardin

“We’re given second chances every day of our life. We don’t usually take them, but they’re there for the taking.”- Andrew Greely

The long-standing summer reading list

The practice of receiving a Summer Reading list is a shared experience of most middle school and high school students. These lists are designed to keep young minds active. There has been great consideration and discussion as to the makeup of these lists. Often certain titles remain on these lists for decades. The Scarlet Letter and Jane Eyre are great literature. As a librarian, I whole-heartily support the idea of children reading during the summer.

Blindly telling children what to read

However, as a public librarian, I am sadly accustomed to seeing parents shuttling their children into the library to hastily snatch up any book off the list. Their time in the library seems less a visit, and more a speedy, impersonal transaction. Often parents don’t ask what the book is about or read the summary on the book jacket.

Despite the well crafted list, the hastily chosen book might not offer what the child needs. Can the child identify with the characters, the cultures? Does the novel speak to the child? Are all these books truly universal in their appeal?

Children are told what to read.

Choosing the book with the fewest pages

This turns Required Reading into a chore—and children learn to dread reading. As a result, they see reading as work and thus become reluctant readers or non-readers. Some children are regularly encouraged to select books that have the fewest pages. By picking only the books that have the fewest pages, they might miss books that would mean more to them—just because these books are a scant 25 pages longer than the others.

Missing out on library services

Perhaps worst is that for some children this is the only time they get to visit the library. Along with these bad experiences with books, some younger library patrons develop sour impressions of libraries. Thusly all the services and programs offered by their libraries are likely not taken advantage of by these children, even when they grow up. These services and programs include computer classes, employment information, tax aid classes and other varied community based programs.

There’s still hope—even for reluctant readers and non-readers

However, all is not lost. There always remains hope for those who have been turned off from reading. Libraries and literature are always there waiting to be discovered. Libraries are always open to all and they do not—or should not—exclude anyone. Whether patrons venture into the physical library or visit through a library website, they are welcome.

The well-read, the non-readers, and the reluctant readers are equally important. Students, adults, or any person of any age and of any education that didn’t become enamored with literature the first time around the bend have librarians and other professionals available and prepared to assist them.

Librarians listen first

When patrons come into the library they should encounter good librarians who do not have agendas. Librarians do not push books on patrons. Good librarians listen first. Patrons are not dictated to, but rather advised with suggestions. Patrons can form relationships with their librarians.

Getting to know the patrons is the key to librarians becoming guides through literature. What are your interests? What have you read that you have liked? Questions come from these answers and eventually librarians come closer to finding what their patrons like. Librarians can offer more selection than any list. A conversation with a librarian can connect you to stories and themes and interests more precisely.

A second chance to embrace reading and library services

Those who dreaded summer reading have the opportunity. They have a second chance. They can become veracious readers, lifelong students, and even regular patrons of their local libraries. They can benefit from the array of services and programs libraries offer.

Michael Cardin, MLIS, is the Young Adult Librarian at the East Smithfield Public Library in Smithfield, RI. This year’s Teen Summer Reading Program will be the seventh that he has planned and carried out.

Three Great Literary Authors

By Philip Rudy

Literature can stimulate your mind and help you think a more clearly through the day. There is a direct relationship between your learning curve and reading. Reading helps you stay focused, keep your analytic skills sharp, and explode the door open for creativity.

Literature is tough however, and it is hard to make a living off of your writing. For example, did you know that the author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, lived in her vehicle while she wrote those books and was rejected by a plethora of publishers before finally accepted?

Here is a list of some of the top people in literature that ever existed—these people have changed many lives.

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts and was baptized in the Episcopal Church but moved to Britain with his family. He later traveled back to the U.S.A. to serve in the military, which he eventually left to attend the University of Virginia to study languages. In 1827 he published his first book.  In 1833 he was awarded a prize by Baltimore Saturday Visiter for his short story “Ms. Found in a Bottle.” He served many terms in the military throughout the years but was discharged in 1829. In 1830 however, he matriculated as a cadet. His wife died in 1847 and he died in Baltimore, Maryland in 1849.

Here is a small list of some of his most famous books:

  • Hop-Frog
  • The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
  • The Black Cat
  • The Murders in Rue Morgue
  • The Cask of Amontillado
  • The Masque of the Red Death
  • The Fall of the House of Usher
  • The Tell-Tale Heart
  • The Pit and the Pendulum
  • The Raven

Anne Frank

Although some might think of Anne Frank and not automatically associate her as one of the great persons in literature, her diary has traveled many places and touched many lives. She was born in 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany and in 1942 her family went into hiding in a secret annex. On her 13th birthday, Anne got the best gift she could have ever gotten—her diary. She wrote in it for the next 2 years and her last diary entry was on August 1, 1944. (The Frank Family was arrested prior to that from their hideout in the Archterhuis in 1944). An American edition of the Anne Frank diary was published in 1952.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was greatly regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period (correlating to the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901). He excelled at creating fictitious characters and in fact, his biographer Claire Tomalin claims Dickens is the best character creator of all time behind only one man— William Shakespeare. One of his best known books, David Copperfield, actually was his “most autobiographical” piece. In it tells the story of a young boy whose father died and was sent off to boarding school when his cruel stepfather took his place.

Dickens was also a leader in social reform and fought for children’s rights. Some of his most famous pieces include:

  • The Adventures of Oliver Twist
  • The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Great Expectations
  • David Copperfield

Philip Rudy is a blogger for a law firm in Southfield, MI. In his spare time Philip loves reading and is a big fan of the three people mentioned in this article. He one day hopes to write a book of his own.

Changing Lives Through Literature Project: Literature Transforms You

Press Release—Dartmouth, MA

Watch this dramatic rendering of one scene from Edgar Allan Poe’s A Tell-Tale Heart.

Exposing the public to classic literature

The Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program has launched a literature project called Literature Transforms You. The project highlights notable works of literature by creating videos marketed on YouTube. The objective is to expose the public to classic pieces of literature and to renew the public’s interest in reading.

“There are so many great works of Literature that people have not been exposed to. Creating a video dramatizes the experience of reading a novel. CLTL is much more than an alternative sentencing program that helps rehabilitate criminal offenders,” explains the project’s Director of Communication, JoAnne Breault. “It inspires people to read and learn—ultimately promoting literacy.”

Using social media to promote literature

Ms. Breault further states that utilizing YouTube is part of a campaign to harness social media for this literature project.

First Poe, then Shakespeare

The first video features David Mello, Supervisor of Children’s Services at the Fall River (MA) Public Library. Mr. Mello dramatically acts out a scene from Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story, A Tell-Tale Heart.

Ms. Breault’s next mission is to highlight a work of William Shakespeare. “The first time you are assigned to read Shakespeare, there is a sense of apprehension. Once you start reading his words, they are so fluid and melodious; you forget that you are reading old English,” says Ms. Breault.

Children’s books to rival television and video games

Another video will feature a children’s story. “Children are bombarded with violent video games and senseless television. Reading books engages a child’s mind and inspires imagination,” says Ms. Breault.

Seeking volunteer readers and actors

Ms. Breault is seeking volunteers to read captions from their favorite novels and seeking potential actors and actresses to dramatize the scenes. She will perform all of the videography and editing to get the project posted on YouTube.

For more information, e-mail JoAnne Breault at u_jbreault@umassd.edu.

Editor’s Update

David Mello, the spell-binding Tell-Tale Heart narrator in the first Literature Transforms You video, is featured in a Fall River Herald News article by Marc Munroe Dion. The article discusses Mello’s gallery-displayed mask collection which includes a haunting mask of author Edgar Allan Poe. Read the full article.

Giving literature the attention it deserves

By Brynna Baldauf

Literature means so many different things, so let’s start at the base. What is literature, exactly? Merriam-Webster describes it as “writings in prose or verse; especially: writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (2): an example of such writings.”

One explanation of literature, then, may be that it is a synopsis or snapshot of society during the time at which the literature was written – and perhaps elevated or refined so as to be the “the best” society has to offer at that time.

Why is it important to have access to literature of every age?

Experience literature as art

Literature as expressed thusly is art, something that, C.S. Lewis stated, did not simply describe reality, but added to it. Rather than baldly depicting reality at its most basic, literature seeks to elevate current reality to a higher realm. Certainly, a piece of literature explores the social norms and values of the time, but it goes further. It seeks to educate, to provide food for thought, and to spur the reader’s imagination and creative instinct.

Travel to times long past

What was it like to live in society during the time of Dickens, of the Brontës, of Voltaire, of Henry, of Thoreau, et al?

We can get a glimpse of those times long past by reading their works. We get to experience life as the author experienced it – Dickens and his impoverished and difficult childhood, Thoreau and his quest for a “simpler life,” or the Brontë sisters and their experiences as women in a society that saw them largely as helpmeets, mothers and wives, as tenders of children not suitable for work other than as unmarried governesses or teachers, and as the property of husbands or fathers.

Look at the world through someone else’s eyes

In addition to being able to “experience” societies’ past through authors’ writings, reading literature gives us the opportunity to look at the world through completely different eyes, whether past, present, or imagined future. Each of us undoubtedly has our own way of looking at, valuing, and making sense of a world that’s completely unique to us.

Well-written literature that can be understood, analyzed and enjoyed gives us the opportunity to see the world from someone else’s point of view entirely. We may not agree with it or completely understand it, but we can indeed see just how someone else views the world, in a way that gives us fresh insight into our own points of view.

Enjoy simple, elegant entertainment

Few contest the importance of television, radio, video games, the Internet, movies and all other electronic forms of entertainment in their ability to let us relax and enjoy ourselves. Indeed, one might say that they give us effortless ways to enjoy ourselves, since we don’t have to do much but sit back, watch and be entertained.

Even so, the simple and elegant enjoyment that comes with being able to pick up a good book and be transported into another world simply by virtue of our imaginations, our ability to read, and the author’s own prowess with the written word cannot be discounted, nor should it be ignored. Indeed, the ability to read and enjoy good literature is something we may very well lose – to our great detriment and to that of future generations – if we don’t give it the attention it deserves.

Brynna Baldauf has been a lover of books and reading since she was in elementary school and continued this passion through college. She hopes to one day be able to go back to school and earn a human services degree in hopes of helping to council those in need with education and acceptance.