Bring back the bookmobiles. Visit the library regularly. Hire more school librarians. Read to your children. Read in front of your children. Publish more diverse books.
The question of why the number of teenagers who read for pleasure is plummeting, and what can be done about it — posed here a few weeks ago — was met by readers with confidence. You sent memories, ideas and wise suggestions. You got this, clearly.
Wisest, perhaps, was Lisa Buck of Independence, who had a crafty yet lovely way of getting her four teens to read. She and her husband have done the usual stuff — read to their kids, bought them books, took them to the library. Still, “If one of my kids picked up a book for pleasure, I would be shocked,” Buck wrote.
“What I do ask is that they each memorize and recite a poem of their choice twice a year, on Mother’s Day and on my birthday, in lieu of a gift. Their choices have ranged from silly to Shakespeare. They like it because they don’t have to make or buy me a gift. I like it because it exposes them to the written word. Those poems are ingrained in their brain somewhere.”
Krista Winkel of Edina pointed out that making sure every school had a full-time librarian would help. “When budget cuts come up, the library is one of the first things mentioned,” she said. A media specialist herself, she is happy that her district employs nine librarians. “But even our neighboring districts do not. A huge hole in the educational system, if you ask me.”
Paul Dixon remembers going to the public library on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis when he was a child in the 1960s to read “Encyclopedia Brown” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
The decline of reading, he said, is disturbing. One answer, he noted, is more diversity in books for kids. “We know there is a lack of African-American male lead characters in books for children,” he said. “Youth need to see more characters that look like them.”
Brent Heutmaker of Eden Prairie recalls how, in the 1980s, his high school instituted 25-minute reading sessions. “You weren’t supposed to do homework, talk or sleep. You could read anything you wanted (within reason, of course). It was about the only thing in high school I liked.”
Stillwater writer Freya Manfred grew up with a writer father, and she remembers reading for pleasure as a child. When her own sons were young, “we read all the time, in front of them, while they played,” she said, “and we read to them. We talked about what we were reading and what they were reading, and we laughed and cried and told stories about our lives and the lives of other people brought to mind by the books we or they were reading.”
Many, many readers noted that seeing their parents read makes a huge difference for kids. “That modeling is so powerful,” Caitlin Cowan of Minneapolis said. “And I would contend that the parents have to be reading real paper books. Reading on any kind of device, even if it is reading an actual novel in e-book format, just looks like screen time.”
Wrote Linda Henry of White Bear Lake, “Growing up, my parents were always reading. Just yesterday, I saw a paperback of ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ at the local bookstore and flashed back to my dad, whose hardcover copy was well worn. And my mom and her copies of Buckminster Fuller. What 10-year-old knows that name? But we did, because our parents read, and let us know there was a world of ideas — even inside our suburban rambler.”
Next week: Responses from teens on why they do — or do not — read.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/startribunebooks