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Reading in Summer

The summer vacation is probably the best time to catch up on reading. You can create some time for yourself and sit down and enjoy all your favourite books.

There is a Chinese saying, “To read a book for the first time is to make an acquaintance with a new friend; to read it for a second time is to meet an old one.” So this summer make the most of your holiday and read stories that will open up new vistas of adventure, fun, mystery and laughter.

It’s summer again, and my bookshelf is filled with all the books I wish to read during the vacation. Through the year, I collect books and then during the holidays I park myself on my favourite chair in front of my bookshelf and read!

I have picked up some rather interesting books by Indian and non-Indian authors. There is a book called The Burmese Box. It was written by Lila Majumdar in Bengali and translated into English by Subhadra Sen Gupta. Actually it is a novella with two short but rather exciting stories. One, of course, is about the Burmese Box and the other is Goopy’s Secret Diary.

I have a collection of books by Ruskin Bond. What I would read first is Escape From Java and Other Tales of Danger. It is a collection of five stories, all about danger and adventure.

Have you heard of an author called Pseudonymous Bosch? His books are very different. Of course Pseudonymus Bosch is not his real name. But that’s the name under which he prefers to author his books. He has written the Secret Series. Five books, each dealing with one sense. His first book The Name of This Book is Secret is based on smell, the next If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late is based on sound, This Book is Not Good For You is based on taste, This Isn’t What It Looks Like is based on sight and the last one You Have To Stop This is based on touch. I couldn’t get all the five, though I did manage to pick up This Book Is Not Good For You. It’s all about chocolate — but believe me, it’s not sweet and syrupy!

Great variety

I managed to find a book called Attacks of the Volcano Monkeys by Wiley Miller. I really don’t know much about it but it does promise a lot of action.

It’s not only new books that fascinate me. Sometimes I go back and re-read my old books. And the ones I plan to read again this summer are The World’s Funniest Folktales, Just So Stories, Tales from the Arabian Nights, Pride and Prejudice, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and of course The Wind in the Willows. A friend gifted me with a book called The Pearls of Wisdom. It is set in the water world and there are characters like a Black Magi and a Secret Service vampire agent called Count Drunkula, Va- Suki a thousand headed serpent and more. Should be fun I think.

I wonder if you have heard about Feluda? He is a detective created by Satyajit Ray. Feluda and his cousin Topshe stumble upon one mystery after another. Feluda with his super-sharp brain usually unravels the secret and finds the truth. There are a number of Feluda books. The Emperor’s Ring, The Curse of the Goddess and Trouble in the Graveyard some of them. Don’t miss the Feluda series. They are amazing. Satyajit Ray has also written short stories. Words cannot describe these stories, as they take you away from the mundane every day life into something not only bizarre but sometimes even scary. He has trees that eat flesh and people who make friends with aliens.

R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days is always a favourite summer read. Set in sleepy Malgudi it takes you through the days of Swami and his

friends. It’s good to have a mix of genres and so Wordygurdybook! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray, could provide a few laughs. Scary stories are fun too. I have with me Jerry Pinto’s The Puffin Book of Spooky Ghost Stories. Thirteen stories of hauntings, frightening creatures and spirits.

The last shelf of my bookcase has all the old favourites. Gullivers Travels, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Black Beauty, King Arthur, Doctor Dolittle, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Best of Tagore – Kabuliwalla, The Scarlett Pimpernel…

I have also nicked some books from my mom’s childhood collection – school stories, mystery stories and adventure stories too. Most of them are by Enid Blyton. And I also found a couple of worn copies of books by Angela Brazil. My mom says they are school stories and she loved every one of them. I also have a few from the Chalet School series. These books were written by Elinor Brent-Dyer. It’s all about a girl called Jo and how her sister starts a school in Austria. These books are simply fantastic.

So that’s my reading list. Let me get started.





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Booking to the Future

Paper or electronic? Futurists have been pushing one option for years—but do we have to choose?

It’s no secret that librarians like books. For decades, those pages sandwiched between rectangles of cardboard have been the primary reason librarians sought and secured employment. As methods of communication and information sharing evolve, however, books have begun to transform, sparking a debate not only among book publishers and readers but librarians as well.

In response to a hot-button issue in the library profession nationwide, the Library Research Service (LRS), a unit of the Colorado State Library, conducted a survey to check current library professionals’ predictions for the future of the paper book. It’s probably no surprise that respondents thought the trend would be toward electronic formats. But for a variety of reasons, paper books refuse to die a quiet death.

In December 2009, LRS posted an eight-question survey titled “The Future of the Book” on the homepage of its website and sent the link to multiple state, regional, and national library-related discussion lists. Survey questions asked respondents whether they owned an e-reader; whether or when they thought paper books would disappear; what format they currently used and expected to use in 10 years to read fiction, nonfiction, and textbooks; and what they predicted libraries would circulate in 10 years. Respondents were offered 2–5 answer options to these questions.

Over the course of a month, 1,326 respondents, representing all 50 states and 24 countries, completed the survey. A third of respondents worked in public libraries, a quarter in academic, and almost one out of five in school libraries. More than seven out of 10 survey respondents left comments to an open-ended question about their thoughts on the future of the book.

LRS staff evaluated the comments—ranging in tone from philosophical to passionate to practical—and collectively identified the six most frequently mentioned factors in the paper-versus-electronic-format debate: the existence of multiple formats, technological advantages, emotional/aesthetic appeal, content, cost, and time/generational change. After coding each comment according to which topics it addressed, LRS staff were able to analyze how the comments related to other survey responses.

Looking into the crystal ball

Overall, almost two out of three (63%) respondents claimed that paper books would never disappear, and half that number (33%) predicted their demise in from 21 to 100 or more years (see Chart 1). The remaining 4% anticipated that paper books would vanish within the next two decades. These numbers shifted when the 16% of respondents who reported owning an e-reader were singled out: E-reader owners were nearly three times as likely as non-owners to predict that paper books would disappear by 2030.

Despite the overwhelming conviction that paper books would not become extinct in the immediate future, the question remains as to what extent libraries will circulate them in, say, 10 years. Of the entire survey group, 43% of respondents predicted that libraries would circulate about the same amount of physical and electronic materials, and slightly fewer (39%) anticipated more electronic than physical. Less than half that percentage (16%) thought physical materials would continue to be more common. The prediction that libraries would increasingly favor electronic resources did not extend to a sentiment that libraries were growing irrelevant or would become completely virtual; less than 1% of survey respondents thought libraries would not exist or would circulate only electronic materials in 10 years.

Survey respondents’ predictions of their personal format choices also revealed a substantial drift toward electronic. In 10 years, the number of respondents who read fiction, nonfiction, and textbooks electronically could escalate from three to six times their current percentages, while paper use would decrease accordingly.

  Although these increases may appear drastic, use of electronic formats is starting from a point that leaves almost nowhere to go but up. Respondents’ current use of electronic formats was still relatively low–just 5% for fiction, compared with the 88% who opted for paper–and the majority expected paper to continue to be their preferred format for fiction and nonfiction. The most drastic changes were anticipated in the textbook business, with estimates that electronic use would increase from 10% to 59%, cutting use of paper textbooks to less than half–just 40%–by 2020 (see Charts 3 and 4).

Two sides of the same coin

Despite the apparent consensus that much textbook use would migrate to electronic formats, survey respondents’ comments revealed contradictory opinions about this inevitability. Some respondents argued that electronic formats could be much more affordable and convenient for students, while others identified e-books’ subpar note-taking capabilities and the lack of color for scientific charts as reasons that paper remains a better option for academics.

This type of back-and-forth debate was no less animated for other types of reading. Format preference for fiction inspired ardent remarks from respondents, many of whom touted the emotional or aesthetic appeal of reading a paper book. As some put it, curling up in front of a fire with a cup of cocoa and an electronic machine just didn’t sound as cozy as feeling the textured paper and smelling the faint musty odor of a favorite old paperback. One respondent remarked, “Who wants to read their kid a bedtime story using a Kindle?”

Interestingly, survey respondents used similar points to argue both sides of an issue. For example, fans of both paper and electronic books claimed that their preferred format was more desirable because it was conveniently portable. Each format offers specific technological advantages to recommend it, but six in 10 survey respondents who commented on the subject found more to like about paper books’ durability, freedom from battery or electric power, and ease on the eyes. Only one in four had such positive things to say about e-books’ convenience or various enhancements (see Chart 5).

In addition to technological advantages, survey respondents cited lower cost as a benefit for both e-books and paper books. Here again, paper books seemed to win the argument: Two out of three comments said paper books were cheaper, while one in four argued that e-books were more cost effective. Furthermore, one in 10 of the respondents who commented on cost or technological advantages did not specify whether e-books or paper books held the upper hand.

More survey respondents agreed with the idea that multiple formats would coexist in the future, that it’s not an either-or debate. Nearly half of survey comments (46%) referenced previous format changes or identified potential for increased accessibility through alternative formats. “If a book interests people it will be published and ‘read,’ regardless of format, and regardless of whether ‘reading’ actually means reading, viewing, listening, or participating, or all four,” one respondent said.

Similarly, many survey respondents saw electronic books as simply one more way to make information available. In fact, one in five comments (18%) emphasized content over format, articulating one of two beliefs, best expressed in respondents’ own words: “Content, not containers! It’s not about the book–it’s about what’s inside of it” and “Different formats work for different audiences and purposes.”

Several survey respondents noted that children’s literature and art books would be the last, if ever, to migrate to electronic formats because of the superior quality and aesthetic appearance of print illustrations. Many comments conveyed the thought that electronic formats were most conducive to presenting news and informational reading–shorter texts, perhaps–while pleasure reading also would remain largely in print. That said, a number of survey respondents claimed the opposite, that some informational material, especially in academic categories, might be better absorbed and assimilated by reading paper books and that “throwaway” fiction or quick pleasure reads could be more compatible with transient electronic formats.

In addition to those influences on format choice, one in 10 comments expressed the thought that only time would tell. As younger, digital-oriented generations age, their preference for electronic gadgets may lead to a greater shift away from paper at the same time improvements to the technology become more frequent.

Future is still fuzzy

At the merest prompt, a discussion of the future of the book sends librarians and avid readers into zealous debate, with one group defending paper, a second advocating for electronic formats, and yet another scratching their heads in undecided confusion. Contributing to the chaotic conversation are reports trumpeted by companies such as Amazon, which announced this summer that Kindle e-book sales had surpassed those of hardcover books. While neither hardcover nor electronic book sales can hold a candle to paperbacks, electronic books are clearly emerging as a significant market share in the publishing industry. E-reading devices are becoming more affordable–at the time of this writing, the latest rendition of the Kindle, with free 3G wireless, was going for $189–and new devices such as the iPad offer free applications that bring together previously incompatible e-book formats (and in color, too!). These developments, which occurred after LRS conducted this survey at the end of 2009, have already addressed some of the respondents’ concerns about e-books; even so–or perhaps as a result–it is still difficult to judge how electronic books and reading devices will change in the coming year, let alone the next decade.

If nothing else, the 71% of survey respondents who left additional comments indicated that the book’s future is indeed a topic of fervent concern. An important point to note, however, is that 86% of survey respondents reported working in a library. Compared with casual patrons and users, most librarians are likely to have more ardent feelings about the traditional book or book formats in general. Yet no matter what librarians think, it is library users who will guide the future demand for format options in books and libraries. Perhaps this demographic should be surveyed next, to try to get a clearer view of their expectations.

One thing the survey does make clear is that many factors influence format choice for any type of book. Cost, technology, emotional/aesthetic appeal, content, and even the passage of time all will play a role in whether, when, and how the traditional paper book will change. “The book in some form will always be around,” one survey respondent sagely remarked. “We just may not recognize the form our grandkids or great-grandkids call a ‘book.’”

JAMIE E. HELGREN, an MLIS student at the University of Denver, is a research fellow at the Library Research Service, a unit of the Colorado State Library.


Filed under: Article of the Week, ,

Meeting Readers Where They Are: Mapping the intersection of research and practice

By Carol Gordon

The reading patterns and habits of young and old are changing as reading migrates from the printed page to the computer screen. Now, new forms of expression such as remixes and mash-ups are emerging from interactive digital environments. How can school librarians help students read with understanding in dynamic digital environments? How can they anticipate the help young people need to successfully negotiate new forms of reading?

Examining current reading practices—and the underlying research-based beliefs that may or may not guide those practices—can not only help us improve our work today, but it can also help us create future practices. But are our current practices working? Some of our beliefs are mythical, while others are based on research. How can we tell the difference? Below are the seven most prevalent beliefs about reading examined in the light of previous research.

slj1110_gordon2(Original Import)

Illustration by Ken Orvidas

1. Young people get better at reading by reading, just as they learn by doing (Shin, 1998; Dewey, 1916).

Do we provide enough reading opportunities? For decades school librarians have assumed the role of reading motivator, arranging author visits, distributing bookmarks, delivering booktalks, creating reading lists and READposters. A statewide study of school libraries showed that most reading activities sponsored by school libraries are passive, rather than active (Todd and Heinstrom, 2006).

While passive activities create interest in reading, and possibly motivation, they are more effective when balanced with active reading through sustained silent reading. Those who participate in sustained silent reading programs show clear increases in the amount of free reading they do outside of school (Pilgreen and Krashen, 1993), and the effects appear to last years after the program ends (Greaney and Clarke, 1975). Despite these findings, sustained silent reading has declined in schools. Book clubs and summer reading programs also offer time to read, but they are extracurricular. They motivate reading because they create reading communities that extend reading into a social activity.

2. The social aspects associated with reading are motivational (Guthrie and Wigfield, 1997).

School librarians can reduce the isolation of reading through reading blogs, reading clubs, literature circles, and student reviews reported in podcasts and Voice Thread. These activities give reading a voice, making the experience of reading communal. Social networking tools are useful in bringing readers together, yet in many schools web 2.0 sites are blocked, cutting students off from the virtual worlds in which they spend a good deal of their time.

Even summer reading programs are rarely collaborative. There’s little opportunity for teens to connect reading with social interaction among their teachers, librarians, or peers. Reading in isolation is compounded by reading mandates that dictate texts that are simply not interesting to adolescents. Often the closest that reading comes to being a social activity is through competition rather than cooperation (Guthrie and Davis, 2003). Reading motivation programs that use competition and artificial measures of reading success, such as point systems, distort the reason for reading. They rob students of free choice by shifting the focus from what they want or like to read to what will earn them more points.

3. Free choice is a factor in reading motivation (Guthrie and Davis, 2003).

Do young people believe they have free choice? The decline in motivation of middle school students is accompanied by a decline in choices and an increase in teacher control (Guthrie and Davis, 2003). Studies of summer reading in Massachusetts (Gordon and Lu, 2008) and Delaware (unpublished) show that low-achieving students don’t think they have free choice, while their higher-achieving classmates feel they do. Since low achievers typically do not read voluntarily outside of school, most of their reading is mandated. These students express anger and defiance, as indicated by survey data. In many cases, low achievers don’t really hate to read—they hate to be told what to read.

Free choice is violated when schools give preference to books, especially for low achievers, and fail to validate alternative media such as magazines, newspapers, and websites (Gordon and Lu, 2008). Summer reading programs typically present graded lists that narrow choice to “recommended” books. The focus on reading books turns off reluctant readers who say they hate to read, but actually do read during the summer (ibid). Although they read alternative materials, they don’t think this kind of reading counts. Instead of encouraging students to read what they’re already enjoying, schools demotivate them by limiting their reading choices. Preferring books over other sources of reading not only fails to validate low achievers as readers, it invites low levels of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977). “Self efficacy refers to beliefs a person has about his or her capabilities to learn or perform behaviors at designated levels” (Schunk and Zimmerman, 1997). Low achievers begin to believe that they cannot read.

4. Free voluntary reading is as effective, or more effective, than direct instruction (Greaney, 1970; Krashen, 1989).

Free voluntary reading (FVR) is not only conducive to reading motivation, it actually works better than direct instruction. Fifty-one out of 54 students using FVR did as well or better on reading tests than students given traditional skill-based reading instruction (Krashen, 2004). In fact, young people who read have better comprehension, research tells us, and they write better, spell better, improve their grammar, and increase their vocabulary.

For example, one study (Saragi, Nation, and Meister, 1978) presented adult readers with copies of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, a novel that contains 241 words of an artificial language called nadsat. Each artificial word is repeated an average of 15 times. In the study, the nadsat dictionary was removed from the books and readers were told they would be tested when they finished reading, but they didn’t know their vocabulary acquisition would be tested. They finished their books within three days and a few days later were given a multiple choice test covering 90 nadsat words. Scores ranged from 50 to 96 percent, with an average of 76 percent.

There’s also evidence that FVR benefits English-language learners as well. In three studies of 3,000 children, ages six through nine, children following a program that combined shared book experience, language experience, and free reading outperformed traditionally taught students on tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary, oral language, grammar, listening, and writing (Elley and Mangubhai, 1983).

5. People will read when they have access to reading materials (Krashen, 2004).

Access is the silver bullet for reading improvement. Krashen (2004) argues that there’s consistent evidence that those who have more access to books read more. Students who have more time for recreational reading demonstrate more academic gains in reading than “comparison students.” A lack of reading practice results in a decline in reading ability.

In Colombia, the government dramatically increased access to reading materials. Fundalectura, a government agency charged with promoting reading implemented a program called I Libri al Viento, or Books to the Wind. The country was flooded with inexpensive reprints of out-of-copyright novels, short stories, and poetry. Books were placed at bus stops, train stations, and markets—wherever there were people. As people read more, literacy rates improved.

6. It is important to design inclusive summer reading for all students (Gordon and Lu, 2008).

The “summer effect” on student achievement is well-researched: “The long summer vacation breaks the rhythm of instruction, leads to forgetting, and requires a significant amount of review when students return to school in the fall” (Cooper, 2003). Research findings have consistently reported that student learning declines or remains the same during the summer months and the magnitude of the change differs based on socioeconomic status (Malach and Rutter, 2003).

Family income emerged as the best predictor of loss in reading comprehension and word recognition loss (Cooper et al. 1996). Disadvantaged children showed the greatest losses, with a loss of three months of grade-level equivalency during the summer months each year, compared with an average of one month loss by middle-income children when reading and math performance are combined (Alexander and Entwisle, 1996). The difference between high- and low-income children’s reading scores on the California Achievement Test, as a percent of the standard deviation of scores, grew from 68 percent in first grade, to 98 percent in third grade, to 114 percent in eighth grade.

During the school year, learners’ gains are remarkably similar for students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds (Entwistle, Alexander, and Olson, 1997, 2000; Heyns, 1978; Murnane, 1975). However, when school is not in session during the summer, there are inequalities in educational opportunities and outcomes (Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson 2001; Cooper et al. 1996). Children with special educational needs (Sargent and Fidler, 1987) or those who speak a language other than English at home may experience a greater negative effect from an extended period without practice. It can be said that the achievement gap is a summer reading gap.

While summer reading is a good idea, it often violates research-based beliefs about free choice, the importance of access, and the social aspects of reading. Teacher- and librarian-authored reading lists often don’t include student input. The classics are emphasized, and choices are limited to books. There is no attention paid to reading across nonprint media formats, i.e., transliteracy. Despite what the research shows us, many educators insist that summer reading should be curricular and students should read “good” books.

Although research shows that stimulating tasks increase situational interest, which in turn increases reading motivation and comprehension (Guthrie, et al. 2006), summer reading programs often lack stimulating tasks. Instead, students are asked to write a report about what they read. Situational reading, or interest in a particular book at a particular time, requires intervention in the form of reading advisory that’s often absent during the summer months. Writing about what they read is not, for most students, a stimulating task that captures the excitement of situational reading. In fact, for reluctant and struggling readers, who are also reluctant and struggling writers, it’s punitive.

7. The pleasure hypothesis—reading is its own reward (Krashen, 2004).

Summer reading and other reading motivation initiatives are problematic when they offer extrinsic rewards for reading. Intrinsic motivation is found to be a predictor of the amount and breadth of reading more often than extrinsic motivation (Guthrie and Wigfield, 1997). Many reading initiatives use extrinsic motivation by offering points for reading or a grade for “book reports” or summaries presented to the English/ language arts teacher when students return to school after summer vacation. For aliterate and reluctant readers this translates to extrinsic punishment for not doing the written assignment, usually because they didn’t read books.

Extrinsic rewards, often combined with competition, suggest that young people are resistant to reading. This is, for the most part, not true when we broaden our view of what it means to read. Meeting readers where they are, rather than expecting them to meet us where we think they should be, is critical to reading motivation. In fact, it’s a key concept in opening doors to reading for adolescents because it’s related to self-efficacy. Reading is its own reward because it’s enjoyable—even for low achievers and reluctant readers. Reading is described as “perhaps the most often mentioned flow activity in the world” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991).

What do successful reading motivation strategies have in common with why tweens and teens like being online? Whether teens are reading a book or blogging, they like interactive, hands-on experiences. They thrive on social interaction and inclusiveness. They are self-directed learners who know free choice is part of being creative. Teens expect access to books and computers. School librarians aren’t trapped by institutionalized beliefs about reading. Rather, school librarians are empowered to promote reading, not as a school subject that’s mandated, practiced, and tested, but as a personal experience that fulfills intellectual and emotional needs.

Carol Gordon ( is an associate professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, and director of research for the Center for International Studies in School Libraries.


Filed under: Article of the Week,

Books and Literacy in the Digital Age

Can we grow technophiles who are also bibliophiles?

By Ralph Raab

I’d like to admit something to you upfront: I love books. I don’t mean the "isn’t-the-new-Stephen-King-great" type of love. I’m talking about a real passion here: I love the way the binding cracks the first time you open a new hardcover book; the little globules of glue that cling to the corners of the binding; the feel of a small book held in one hand, or the heft of a large book as it sits on your lap. But most of all—and I admit this without the least iota of shame—I love the smell of ink and paper, whether old or new. It’s absolute olfactory heaven.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love my BlackBerry, my Xbox, and using the internet for research or to shop at all hours of the day. In fact, technology shares my life with books in equal parts. And that’s precisely why I’m so perplexed when I read articles or hear on the news that books are slowly and inexorably vanishing, that computers, handheld eReaders, and iPods will surely win out and force books out of our schools, our libraries, and ultimately, our lives.

Not so fast! Codices—or books as we know them now—have been in their current form for nearly 2,000 years, and the technology that threatens their existence has only been around for four decades—two decades if you count widespread use. But before we can discuss how the new technology can be used side-by-side with books to promote literacy, it behooves us to first understand how we got to this point as well as the demographic that is sounding the death knell for printed matter.

Millennials and the Matthew effect

As a librarian, it stands to reason that at some point in your career you’ve wondered just how you can help get young people to enjoy reading. Well, I’m here to tell you that if you’ve ever felt like a failure in that regard—don’t. The simple fact is this: Literacy starts at home. If parents surround their child with books, read to him or her from the start, and promote reading throughout the child’s development, chances are quite good that the child will grow up to be a reader. And the more he or she reads, the more he or she will read.

This is illustrated by the Matthew effect, a term coined by sociologist Robert K. Merton. It’s a phenomenon whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer; when applied to reading, it can be said that the more a child reads, the more he or she can read. Vocabulary skills get stronger, more intricate plots can be followed, and what once seemed a chore can soon be enjoyable. It’s just like exercise: Do it every day and you’ll feel energized; do it once a month and you’ll be in pain.

Millennials—people who were born roughly between 1980 and 1995—have been quite literally growing up alongside the technological advances in the informational realm. As such, many have grown into technophiles and bibliophobes, as well as people who feel at home doing five things at once. It’s easy to pick them out in a crowd: They can frequently be seen texting, listening to music, watching TV, instant messaging, and doing homework—all at the same time. Some would argue that the proliferation of electronic media in children’s lives would cause them to become functionally illiterate. This isn’t really true; in fact the opposite is true—our youth in recent years have become e-literate.

E-literacy and the false promise of technology

The milestones in the history of the printed word were initially spread out over several thousand years. It took civilization nearly 7,000 years to get from the invention of writing, through the inventions of the scroll and the codex, and eventually to the invention of moveable type—introduced through the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455. Since that milestone, though, there haven’t been many earth-shattering developments to advance the printed word. But with the advent of the internet in 1969, information technology accelerated at an exponential rate—something that has not escaped the notice of one particular global demographic, the millennials.

A 2007 study showed that frequent television viewing during adolescence caused attention deficiencies—a fact that can only make you wonder what the added effect of all the new technology has done to the average attention span and the ability to read anything longer than a blog entry. You would think that schools would try to counter this trend by putting more funding into their school libraries and reading programs. You’d be wrong.

According to Todd Oppenheimer in his book The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom, and How Learning Can Be Saved, from the early 1990s through the first part of this century, school districts across the country spent billions of dollars promoting computer-based learning, promising that computers would engage students in a way that books could not. A school district in Union City, California, spent $37 million to buy computer equipment and software—and paid for it by cutting science equipment and field trips. An elementary school in Los Angeles dropped its music program in order to hire a “technology manager.” But we need to ask ourselves: After nearly two decades of this philosophy, have we seen a rise in literacy? The answer, sadly, is no—or at the very least, not nearly enough to justify what we have lost in the process.

But there is one bright spot in these sobering statistics: You must be functionally literate in order to use the internet. This has led to a phenomenon called e-literacy, a practice begun and perfected by millennials.

E-literacy incorporates all of the reading children do online as opposed to offline hard-copy text. Chances are that any random child spends more time instant messaging, texting, blogging, creating or adding to wikis, doing online research, tweeting, or using social networks like Facebook or MySpace than curled up with a good book. But when parents and teachers criticize the amount of time kids spend online, they’re forgetting one key fact: You have to be literate to use the internet effectively. By focusing children’s enthusiasm for online exploration and expression on powerful educational tools, parents and teachers can promote literacy alongside technology.

Kindles and Readers and Nooks—Oh, my!

The Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader, and the new Barnes and Noble Nook are great tools to have for casual and avid readers alike—with some drawbacks. You can put thousands of books into your digital reader and take it on vacation with you. It also allows you to adjust the font size for easier reading; if you need a large-print book, you can simply buy the original version and resize it. And e-book pricing can’t be beat: You’ll pay anywhere from $6 to $10 per book, so if you’re a voracious reader, the digital reader will pay for itself in lower book prices. You can even take notes in the electronic margins of the e-book you’re reading, just as you would in a hard copy. And the ability to wirelessly download a book instantaneously makes it almost a no-brainer to buy, right? Wrong.

The same things that make digital readers great can make them not so great, and sometimes in a scary way. In July 2009, Amazon pulled digital copies of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 from its Kindle store because the publisher of those books decided it didn’t want to offer a Kindle edition anymore. In an ironic Big Brother-esque twist, Amazon also remotely deleted every copy of those e-books that people had already purchased and offered instead a voucher for a future purchase. This action was tantamount to somebody sneaking into your house in the middle of the night, taking one of your books off your shelf, and leaving in its place a bookstore gift card for a different title. One major problem (besides the obvious one) is that some people—college students in particular—had taken notes in the margins of their e-book copies of 1984 and Animal Farm in advance of writing a paper or taking an exam. Those notes—along with their books—vanished into thin air.

This is the biggest drawback to digital readers. There are other e-book downsides that hard-copy book readers don’t need to worry about. Books don’t have batteries that run out. You don’t have to turn your book off on takeoff and landing, which has to be very annoying to e-book readers; after all, isn’t one of the biggest advantages that you can take lots of books with you on vacation in one small device? And at the beach, spilled tanning lotion or rogue waves are apt to be less destructive to your paperback.

But Kindles, Readers, and Nooks can actually help parents, teachers, and librarians make children more literate. In a recent informal poll of a 5th-grade class, students were asked how many would admit to not reading as much as they think they should—to which approximately half replied in the affirmative. That half were then asked how many thought getting a digital reader for the holidays would inspire them to read more. Half raised their hands. Simply by having a cool new gadget in their hands with the ability to download their books instantly,  could potentially increase literacy in one grade in one school by 25%. If boards of education across the country still want to spend the bulk of their funds on digital initiatives, I would submit that they consider putting digital readers in the hands of their students, instead of subscribing to the Next Great Thing in the digital realm: the digital library.

The Google Project and digital libraries

One of the greatest advantages to having a digital reader is the ability to wirelessly download content 24 hours a day. If you’re just looking for free e-books, then Project Gutenberg is the place for you. There are over 30,000 books available for download to any portable device: PC, cell phones, or readers. Most works are classics whose copyright has expired—hence the cost-free price tag.

The convenience and accessibility of e-books haven’t gone unnoticed by many library organizations, most notably the Internet Archive, which boasts “over one million books—free to the print-disabled.” But there’s much more than that; the archive allows for downloads of movies, software, and audio files as well. Other similar projects include the World Digital Library, sponsored by UNESCO, NetLibrary (until recently operated by OCLC and now operated by EBSCO), and the Internet Public Library, which has special areas for kids and teens. Many online libraries allow for the download of digital content for a specified period of time, after which the content is disabled.

But no digital library has garnered nearly the attention that Google has for its efforts to digitize every book ever printed. To that end, in 2004 Google teamed up with the New York Public Library to digitize its collection and shortly thereafter joined forces with the Library of Congress to do the same. It didn’t take long for Google to run into a wall: authors didn’t want people to be able to download their books for free. Lawsuits were filed, and to date the issue hasn’t been resolved. And although Google continues digitizing books each day some book content simply cannot be accessed online—most notably books written after 1915 (most books are copyrighted until 95 years of publication, after which they fall into the public domain).

You may have heard about this but never realized what a great research tool it can be for use in the classroom, library, and at home. Let’s say you need to find the passage that depicts one of the greatest images in American literature: Tom Sawyer whitewashing a fence. Navigate your web browser to Google. At the top where it says "More," use the dropdown menu and click on "Books." Type “Tom Sawyer” in the search box, then click on the first book that comes up, which should be The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (if not, it should be second or third). In the search box on the left, type “fence.” Every instance of the word fence in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will be displayed on the screen. The scene you’re looking for can be found within the first 20 or so pages, so you’ll want to click on one of the lower page numbers. And there you have it: You’ve found a famous literary passage in less than a minute (with practice). Using the advanced book search at the top helps you to refine search terms and keywords to get exactly what you’re looking for.

This powerful tool in helping children to “get back to literature” uses the thing they love most—technology. It’s also just one small thing that parents, teachers, and librarians can use to help society develop a culture of literacy and get our kids reading again.

Creating a culture of literacy

Computers, it must be said, are causing irreparable harm to our literary history and heritage. Visit the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City some time and revel in the different drafts written by Dickens, Hemingway, Faulkner, and the like. Look at all the cross-outs and notes in margins that give us a peek into the creative process like nothing else can. Read entire sections of text that never made it into the finished masterpiece as you ponder what, exactly, made this passage unworthy of the final book.

Then, think of the fact that books aren’t written like that anymore. Future masterpieces may not have drafts that we can look at and pore over in wonder. Everything is done by computer now; the first draft is written, then changed and changed again—possibly with previous versions deleted or unsaved. We may never have any way of knowing what was going on in the thought processes of our present and future literary masters.

But we will always have the buildings they helped to create: temples built for the love of books. It always escapes me why teachers hardly ever think to take their classes on field trips to our country’s greatest libraries. For me, every trip to Washington, D.C., is crowned by a visit to the main reading room of the Library of Congress. You think the dome in the Capitol Building is beautiful? It pales in comparison to the pantheon of books at the Library of Congress, and the new myLOC program allows students to register a passport, then use it to answer questions about the library by examining their surroundings. They can also download and save images from LC to their passport account and view it all online from home.

New York Public Library is one of the most beautiful structures in the city and houses one of the 48 copies in existence of the Gutenberg Bible as well as the original Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animals that A. A. Milne based his books on—all on public display. Blocks away is the Morgan Library and Museum, which houses one of the greatest private collections of books and manuscripts ever amassed. The items on display are constantly rotated, so frequent visits there are always rewarded with something new.

Another way to get children interested in reading is through reading groups. Adults have them and should encourage their children to get friends together and form groups of their own. The Harry Potter rage was a phenomenon because it became a social event. It transcended the literary realm because it was marketed into every facet of our culture: movies, T-shirts, games. Midnight release parties and costumed events became part of a child’s social world and were accepted by almost everyone. We’ll probably never see its like again—the Twilight series came close but only gained a fraction of the interest worldwide.

If we can’t socialize books on such a grand scale again, we can do it on a smaller town-by-town basis. Reading groups socialize children and make them feel like they belong to a club. They can choose what they want to read without being told what to read by a teacher. Each child feels important when it’s his or her turn to choose the next book for the group to read, and groups held at different houses allow the parents to host their own social event while the children discuss the book. I’ve seen it work in various towns, and it has a somewhat viral effect; the more kids who are involved in the group, the more kids who want to join. Nonmembers begin to feel like they’re missing out on something. Physical–not digital–libraries are the cornerstone of democracy. They must not–and will not–fail.

Robert Darnton of Harvard University makes this point in The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future. Libraries are the one place in the world where books and technology meet. And since copyright issues will most likely never be resolved, people will always need to find a physical book on a physical shelf. Also, not every book can be digitized; there have been different versions of books throughout history, and permission will never be granted by every institution to digitize those editions. The works of William Shakespeare are an example: They have been changed and modified through successive editions over the last 500 years. We will never see every version of his works on Google.

And if you’re still thinking that I’m a little strange for dwelling so much on a book’s physical properties—size, shape, feel, and, yes, even smell—consider this interesting tidbit from Darnton’s book: In a recent poll taken at a French university, 43% of students queried considered smell to be an important aspect of a book and refused to buy the electronic edition. CafeScribe, a French online publisher, has tried to counter this aversion to digital books by supplying stickers to their customers that give off a “bookish” smell when affixed to their computers. It turns out that the tactical and olfactory experience is just as important to a reader’s enjoyment of a book as its content. I feel vindicated.


RALPH RAAB has been a teacher of music, computers, and study skills in East Hanover, New Jersey, for over 20 years and is the author of The Dewey Deception: The First Adventure from the Biblio Files, as well as the forthcoming The Gutenberg Gambit. He can be reached at

Courtesy: American Library Association


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Gotta Keep Reading: Video

Filed under: Literary Videos, ,

Footballers pick books for boys

Boys lag behind girls at school – and one reason is their resistance to reading. But Premier League footballers are coming to their rescue…


Spurs goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini goes for Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan, not just because ‘the writer is a massive Spurs fan’

Teachers will nod glumly at today’s news that boys don’t want to read the books they’re offered at school.

In a new survey, a third of boys agreed with the statement "I can’t find anything to read that interests me", according to the National Literacy Trust which questioned 17,089 pupils aged eight to 16.

The problem with boys and schooling begins even earlier than that. A recent DCSF study of five-year-olds showed that while 42.8% of all boys had attained a good level of progress, 60.9% of all girls had done so – a gap of 18.1 percentage points. And the gender achievement gap is widening, particularly in socially disadvantaged communities.

The National Literacy Trust report also found that a fifth (19.4%) of young people who read below the expected level for their age believe that "reading is more for girls than boys".

By the time they’re eight, and the girls are whizzing their way to Hogwarts via the giant bricks Harry Potter resides in, many boys have reached a decision: books are for girls, I’m going to play football.

And that is where the Premier League Reading Stars scheme comes in. Each of the 20 Premier League football clubs picks a player to select their favourite books. The clubs adopt a library, which gets free copies of all the titles. Then libraries hold sessions to give local families the chance to meet their football heroes and chat about the books.

Let’s see what some of the footballers came up with:

Paul Robinson, Bolton Wanderers, went for It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong:

"It was really inspirational and encouraging and I enjoyed reading every word. I find reading a great way to relax, whether I am reading alone or to my children, and I found that I couldn’t put it down once I had started it. The book is written very honestly and encourages you to always fulfil your potential which is a great message to anyone."

Wade Elliott, Burnley, chose Anthony Horowitz’s The Falcon’s Malteser

"I enjoyed it because it was a crime mystery type story that had plenty of hooks and made me think about what was going on and what might happen next. Reading can open your mind to other people’s points of view and ways of doing things. It’s also a good form of escapism; it can be relaxing to switch off from your day by reading about different situations and ways of life to your own."

Chelsea’s Paulo Ferreira’s choice might come as more of a surprise – Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist.

"I’ve always enjoyed reading and especially now I have children. We try to read together as family as much as we can – it’s good to help your kids develop their language. It’s great that a book written in Portuguese has been so successful and is now one of the most translated and bestselling books in history. It’s a great story very simply told about a young man on a voyage of discovery. The message of the book is that despite fear and obstacles you should always follow your dreams and that experience is the greatest treasure of all."

In last years GCSEs, the proportion of girls getting an A or A* for all subjects was 24.4%, compared with 18.7% of boys. English results for boys were particularly disappointing. But there was a marked improved in maths, with boys outperforming girls for the first time in a decade. Could a boost in reading be exactly what boys need to start reversing a 20-year trend in other subjects? What books would you recommend they start with?

• The National Literacy Trust is an independent charity that transforms lives through promoting literacy.


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Children Teach Themselves to Read


Freedom to Learn

The roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning

by Peter Gray


Even within the same family, different children learned to read at quite different ages. Diane wrote that her first daughter learned to read at age 5 and her second daughter learned at age 9; Lisa W. wrote that one son learned at age 4 and another at age 7; and Beatrice wrote that one daughter learned before age 5 and the other at age 8.

None of these children has difficulty reading today. Beatrice reports that the daughter who didn’t read until age 8 is now 14 years old and "reads hundreds of books a year," "has written a novel," and "has won numerous poetry awards." Apparently, late reading is not inconsistent with subsequent extraordinary literary ability! This daughter did, however, show other signs of literary precocity well before she learned to read. According to Beatrice, she could recite from memory all of the poems in the Complete Mother Goose book by the time she was 15 months old.

The message repeated most often in these stories of learning to read is that, because the children were not forced or coaxed into reading against their wills, they have positive attitudes about reading and about learning in general. This is perhaps most clearly stated by Jenny, who wrote, regarding her daughter (now 15) who didn’t read well until age 11: "One of the best things that came out of allowing her to read at her own pace and on her own initiative was that she owned the experience, and through owning that experience she came to realize that if she could do that, she could learn anything. We have never pressured her to learn anything at all, ever, and because of that, her ability to learn has remained intact. She is bright and inquisitive and interested in the world around her."

2. Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.

In some cases unschooled children progress from non-reading to reading in what seems to observers to be a flash. For example, Lisa W. wrote: "Our second child, who is a visual thinker, didn’t learn to read until he was 7. For years, he could either figure out what he needed to know from pictorial cues, or if stuck, would get his older brother to read to him. I remember the day he started reading. He had asked his older brother to read something to him on the computer and his brother replied, "I have better things to do than to read to you all day", and walked away. Within days [my Italics] he was reading quite well."

Diane wrote, "My first daughter could not read when she turned 5 in March but by the end of that year she could read fluently, out loud, without pause or hesitation." And Kate wrote that her son, at age 9, "taught himself to read" in a period of just one month. In that time span he deliberately worked at reading, on his own, and progressed from being a hesitant, poor reader to highly fluent reading, well beyond what a standard school would have regarded as his "grade level."

Such step-like progressions in overt reading ability may occur at least partly because earlier, more covert stages of learning are not noticed by observers and may not even be noticed by the learners. Karen attributes the rapid onset of reading that she observed in her son to a sudden gain in confidence. She wrote: "Over this past summer, son A [now age 7] went from hiding his ability [to read at all] to reading chapter books. In a summer! Now, six months later, he feels confident enough in his reading ability that I regularly get up in the morning to find him reading aloud to his sister. He even offers to read to his father and me. This was unheard of a year ago when he hid his ability level from us in his embarrassment and lack of confidence. I’m so glad we didn’t push him!"

3. Attempts to push reading can backfire.

Three of the people who sent me stories wrote that they at some point attempted to teach reading to their non-reading child and that the attempt seemed to have negative consequences. Here is what they said.

Holli wrote that when her son was "about 3 1/2" she began trying to teach him reading. "I think the Bob books are stupidly repetitive and inane, but I found ones that were at least moderately engaging and had him start practicing them. … He really was not ready yet, I think, for actual reading, and whether he was or not, he resented being made to do something that wasn’t his idea, so he resisted. … Pretty quickly I realized that in spite of the progress he was making in reading skill, I was doing more harm than good to my son, because I was making him hate reading. I immediately ceased formal instruction in reading, and just went back to reading to him whenever he wanted me to." Holli went on to note that, roughly two years later, her son "entirely surreptitiously" began to look at books on his own and eventually to read, apparently hiding his interest and practice so as not to feel pressured.

Beatrice wrote, of her daughter who learned to read at age 8: "I too am guilty of trying to ‘make her’ read, when she turned 6, worried that the kids at school would be learning this skill and not wanting her to be left behind. After a couple of weeks of insisting she read and keep a journal with me spelling everything and she copying it all out, she told me flatly to ‘leave me alone,’ that she would have no part in my scheme and would learn to read when she was ‘good and ready.’"

And Kate, a homeschooling mom in the UK, wrote, concerning her attempts to teach reading to her son: "By age 9 he was resistant to any English and reading became a regular battle. He resisted it and found it boring and he was distracted, so finally I got over my own schooly head and tried a new policy of letting go. I said that I would never make him read again or even suggest it…. Over the next month he quietly went to his room … and taught himself to read…. I had spent four years teaching him the basics [when he wasn’t interested], but am now sure that he could have learnt that in a few weeks."

4. Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.

There’s an old joke, which I recall first hearing several decades ago, about a child who reached age 5 without ever speaking a word. Then one day, at lunch, he said, "This soup is cold." His mom, practically falling over, said, "My son, you can talk! Why haven’t you ever said anything before?" "Well," said the boy, "up until now the soup has always been warm."

This story is completely apocryphal as applied to learning to talk, which is why we understand it to be a joke. Children learn to talk whether or not they really have to talk in order to get their needs met; they are genetically programmed for it. But the story, somewhat modified, could apply quite reasonably to learning to read. Children seem to learn to read, on their own, when they see some good reason for it. Many of the stories sent to me illustrate this idea. Here are some examples:

Amanda wrote, concerning her daughter who attends a Sudbury model school: "She had consistently told people that she didn’t know how to read until she made brownies this past November [at age 7]. She asked her father and myself to make her favorite brownies for her, but neither of us was willing to make them. A little while later she ran into the room and asked me if I would turn on the oven for her and find her a 9×11 pan (she said, "9 ex 11" instead of "9 by 11"). I got her a pan and turned on the oven. Later she ran in and asked me to put the brownies in the oven. Then she said, ‘Ma, I think I can read now.’ She brought me a few books that she then read out loud to me until she jumped up and said, ‘those brownies smell done. Will you take them out now?’ … Now she tells people that she knows how to read and that she taught herself how."

Idzie, a 19-year-old unschooled but beautifully educated blogger, sent me a link to an essay, on her blog, about her own memories of learning to read. She wrote, in part: "When I was something like age 8 or 9, my mother was reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to my sister and me. But, well, she had things to do other than read, and if she read too long, her voice would get hoarse. So, being quite frustrated at how slow a process this was, and really wanting to know what happened next, I picked it up and began to read."

Marie, an unschooling mom, wrote about her son, now age 7: "[He] found the incentive to become a better reader through acting at a local theater. He has always been passionate about putting together ‘shows,’ but now he is old enough to have real acting experience. He sees that reading is an integral part of this activity that he loves and it has given him a strong reason to grow and develop as a reader. He recently had a part in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and had to read and memorize Shakespeare. It took no instruction on the part of a ‘teacher’ whatsoever."

Jenny wrote that her daughter, who didn’t begin to read books until age 11, was able to satisfy her love of stories by being read to, watching movies, and checking out CDs and books on tape, from the library. She finally began reading because there was no other way for her to satisfy her interest in video games, such as ToonTown, and manga books, which require reading that nobody would do for her.

5. Reading, like many other skills, is learned socially through shared participation.

Observations at Sudbury Valley School, and at other Sudbury model schools, suggest that many children there learn to read through age-mixed play. Non-readers and readers play games together, including computer games, with written words. To keep the game going, the readers read the words and the non-readers pick them up.

Vincent Lopez, a staff member at the Diablo Valley School, a Sudbury model school, sent me this sweet example of age-mixed learning: "In the art room they are making signs to imitate a TV show that had just started. It is in my opinion, a dumb, low-ethics, media-driven, free for all dating show; I’ve let this be known before. In their own way they are processing the future to come. … but I digress. The jewel of this snippet is that the 5-year-old is attempting to read the sign with the help of his multi-aged peers. …Students learn because they want to get the jokes, be more advanced like the peers around them."

Nearly all of the stories from home unschoolers include examples of shared participation in reading. One of my favorites is that presented by Diane, who noted that her daughter, who learned to read at age 5, became interested in reading because of the family’s regular Bible reading time. Before she could read she insisted on having her turn at Bible reading, "and she would just make up words as her turn!"

Others wrote about shared family games involving words, or about shared television viewing in which the onscreen guide and captions would be read for the benefit of nonreaders. Over time, the nonreaders needed ever less help; they began recognizing and reading more and more words themselves. The most often mentioned examples of shared participation are those of parents, or sometimes siblings, reading stories to nonreaders, often as part of the bedtime ritual. Nonreaders look on, at the words as well as the pictures, and sometimes read some of the words; or they memorize books that have been read to them repeatedly, and then later they pretend to read the books while actually attending to some of the words. Pretend reading gradually becomes real reading.

In previous essays I have referred to the great Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, whose main idea was that children develop new skills first socially, through joint participation with more skilled others, and then later begin to use the new skills privately, for their own purposes. That general principle certainly seems to hold in the case of reading.

6. Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write.

At least seven of the people who sent me stories said that their child was interested in writing, or typing, either before or simultaneously with their initial interest in reading. Here are four examples:

Marie wrote, of her son, now age 7: "He is an artist and spends hours drawing things, especially stories and inventions. So naturally he wished to make his pictures "talk" with captions, titles, instructions, and quotations. … There was a lot of ‘MOM? How do you spell Superdog wants to go home?’ I would spell out the sentence and five minutes later, ‘MOM? How do you spell Superdog sees his house?’" This boy learned to read, at least partly, by reading the sentences that he, himself, had written.

Beatrice told a similar story about her youngest daughter, who learned to read before age 5. "She learned to read from her desire to express herself through the written word. Starting from the time she could hold a pencil, be it writing a poem, a song, designing an ad, she needed me to tell her the spelling: ‘How do you spell beaver, how do you spell suggest?’"

Lisa R. wrote of her son, who is presently in the midst of learning to read: "His reading skill relates to his writing efforts. … He has written short notes and story titles using his own phonetic spelling. Sometimes he asks how to spell words for a note or a book. Through repetition, he now remembers some of these words."

Lisa W. wrote: "Our oldest child learned to read when he was 4 years old as a by-product of trying to find free online games on the computer. He would open the browser and ask me to spell free, then online, then games. All of a sudden he was reading."

7. There is no predictable "course" through which children learn to read.

Lest you leave this essay with the belief that I and the people who have contributed these stories have taught you something useful about how to "teach" or "help" your child to read, I assure you we have not. Every child is unique. Your child must tell you how you can help, or not help. I have no idea about that, nor does any so-called reading expert. My only advice is, don’t push it; listen to your child; respond appropriately to your child’s questions, but don’t go overboard by telling your child more than he or she wants to know. If you do go overboard, your child will learn to stop asking you questions.

Quite a few of the people who wrote to me expressed surprise at the sequence that their child went through in learning to read. Some learned to read quite exotic words, which never appear in the primers, well before they learned simpler words. Some, as I said, learned to write before they could read. Some seemed to be learning at a rapid rate and then they just stopped for a couple of years before progressing further. We adults can enjoy watching all of this as long as we remember that it isn’t our responsibility to change it. We’re just observers and sometimes tools that our children use for their own chosen ends.


I am very grateful to the people who took time to write their stories so thoughtfully and send them to me. I hope that many of you who have just read this essay will add to these stories with stories of your own, in the comments section below. It’s high time that we created a real account of the many ways that unschooled children learn to read, an account to contrast with all those rows of books on teaching reading that exist in the education section of every university library.

Finally, I can’t resist ending with a little story about my son’s learning to read. He was a very early reader, and one of the first indications of his reading ability occurred when he was about three and a half and we were looking at a Civil War monument in a town square somewhere in New England. He looked at the words, and then he said to me, "Why would men fight and die to save an onion?"

*[1] D. Rose & B. Dalton (2009), Learning to read in the digital age. Mind, Brain, and Education, 3, 74-83.
[2] R. M. Savio (1989), Self-initiative in the learning process; and A. DelGaudio (1989), SVS Reading Study. Unpublished senior honors theses.
[3] A. Halonen et al., (2006). The role of learning to read in the development of problem behaviour: A cross-lagged longitudinal study. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 517-534.



Filed under: Reading Tips, , ,

Are ebooks the future?




Pradeep Sebastian

Courtesy: The Hindu

Now that Kindle and other digital reading devices are hitting the mainstream, how will virtual words impact the reader and the experience of reading?

Waiting for a poetry reading to begin, Critic A can’t help eavesdropping on a conversation in progress: someone in the room can’t remember a line from a Wallace Stevens poem, and her neighbour ‘Kindles’ the quote, and in a few seconds supplies the line. All present are duly impressed except Critic A, who wonders if the Kindle has become to literature what Wikipedia is to information: “a one-stop outlet, a speedy and irresistibly efficient leveler of context”. That is, the poet Wallace Stevens had been taken out of his historical flesh and blood literary context, and his poetry turned into a piece of information.

Critic B, noting A’s dismay, observes that Blackberrying or Kindling Stevens instantly doesn’t deprive him of his historical and literary context — only forgetting him can do that. And if young people, say his 14-year-old son, can ‘call up’ a poem on his Blackberry in a matter of seconds, then a difficult poet like Wallace Stevens, always in danger of not being read enough, will actually find new readers. “Such liberation of access”, notes Critic B, “can only enrich and deepen the historical imagination — extending its nourishment to new audiences”.

It’s here now

It was perhaps several months ago that I chanced on this exchange — one resisting the Kindle, the other defending it — and thought to myself: why should we agonise over something that we don’t have in India — namely, the Kindle. But now that Amazon’s international version of this e-reading device is actually here (some Rs. 17,500 later), does it mean digital reading is finally becoming mainstream? I asked two prominent Indian publishers what they made of the eBook, and found them prepared and geared up for the revolution.

Thomas Abraham, Hachette India’s managing director is convinced (partly by how easily and frequently he uses an eReader now) that eBook conversion will happen faster than was supposed in India, but will remain a niche interest with the current device format. “The day real convergence occurs — when your phone, mp3 player and eReader are one device — is when you’ll see real mass usage. Hachette is a big believer in the future of the digital medium, both for content as well as distribution platforms. It has therefore set up a central group Digital division which will manage its whole eBook strategy.”

HarperCollins worldwide has for some years now been exploring ways to work closely with digital publishing partners including Amazon. HarperCollins India hopes to learn from their experience to create and partner similar initiatives in India. Its publisher and chief editor, V.K. Karthika is emphatic that “there is no getting away from the fact that digital publishing is the future of the written word. It could mean rethinking processes from scratch, including typesetting and design, not to mention sales and marketing. And of course, as an editor I may have to reinvent my role to adapt to the new technology.”

Neelini Sarkar, editorial assistant at HarperCollins added, “I think being part of traditional book publishing means that we tend to be somewhat skeptical of new-fangled reading formats and insist that e-books just don’t ‘feel’ the same. But they are certainly a convenience, some years down the line a necessity, and at the end of the day e-reading will probably make book-publishing a simpler process.” Listening to them, I realised what they were getting at would probably be echoed by most other publishers, and that it was time for even the fetishistic bibliophile, namely me, to recognise that the printed book and the digital book must co-exist.

But as a longtime reader of the printed book, I can tell you exactly what I’ll miss from an eBook: a particular memory of reading a book, that specific copy, in a certain way; when you return to re-read a book, the act of reading from the same wel- thumbedcopy. Of lending that edition to a friend. The smell of old ink-and not just a generic book smell but the familiar smell of thatcopy. Writing in the margins, bookmarking and shelving it. As a reader who has cared for books in their physical beauty — fine editions, memorable dust jackets, and lovely typefaces — I cannot help but feel that it will not be easy to replace the sensual ritual of feeling paper as you turn a page.


However, the digital book industry is racing to reassure us: CaféScribe, a French on-line publisher, hopes to satisfy the traditional reader by providing customers a sticker that “will give off a fusty, bookish smell when it is attached to their computers”, Amazon Kindle’s screen uses e-paper so you won’t miss white-cream paper, and the Tablet PC has the dimensions and shape of a book. From a long use of the printed book in our lives we know its aesthetics. In time, I feel that the eBook will acquire its own history, aesthetics and culture.

Robert Darnton, book historian and author of the recently published The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future describes at least one way the e-book enhances reading. “An ‘e-book’ unlike a printed codex, can contain many layers arranged in the shape of a pyramid, Readers can download the text and skim through the topmost layer…if they come upon something that especially interests them, they can click down a layer to a supplementary essay or appendix. They can continue deeper through the book, through bodies of documents, bibliography, historiography, iconography, background music…”

But Darnton also points out that there’s nothing still wrong with Movable Type — it has just lost a little to Code in speed and practicality. (Amazon’s most recent ad for Kindle is ‘In the time it takes to read this article, an entire book would have been downloaded’). Once — and for a very long time — the printed book was the fastest and most practical thing (compact, portable, no batteries required) having edged out manuscripts. Darnton believes that learning will ‘remain within the Gutenberg galaxy — though the galaxy will expand, thanks to a new source of energy, the electronic book, which will act as a supplement to, not a substitute for, Gutenberg’s great machine.’

Lingering confusion

I realised my initial skepticism — the skepticism of most traditional bibliophiles — comes from an old but lingering confusion that eBooks equal the decline of reading. We forget that reading itself is in no danger — the freedom experienced in reading is too addictive for that whether on page or screen. Besides, reading makes all forms its own. Consider: the form of the book is always morphing — from vellum manuscripts to wood pulp to pixels, from movable type to the printing press to code, and what remains constant is the experience of reading itself.

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Reader’s Club Programme 2009-’10


Proposed Dates


01 Club Formation July First week Member registration, committee formation
02 Inauguration of Reader’s Club July First week Beginning of Reader’s Club activities for the session
03 Book Fairs 03 times in a year By external agencies
04 International School Library Day (ISLD) 26 Oct. 2009 Talk by an eminent Librarian and other activities
05 Children’s Day 09-15 Nov.2009 Exhibition of books on or by Jawaharlal Nehru .Competitions
06 National Library Week 14-21 Nov. 2009
  1. Book review
  2. Designing book jackets
  3. Story telling
  4. Book reading
  5. Literary quiz
  6. Designing Bookmarks
07 Competitions Through out the year
  1. Bookmark designing competition
  2. Inter school (Shift I & II) Debate (NEW)
08 Library Visit January 2009 State Central library/Children’s Library
09 Screening of VCDs Once in a month Screening of Educational and issue based VCDs for children
10 Valedictory Function April 2009 Prize distribution

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My Dear Book Blog


A new blog has launched exclusively for book lovers.

You can write here about your dearest books.

You can review the book. Or simply leave a comment about the book.

Write short reviews and comments.

If you like to recommend a book for discussion send your suggestions through the comment box or mail it to

librarykvpattom at gmail dot com

Read a Book


Tell to the world about that.

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CHILDLINE 1098 service is a 24 hour free emergency phone outreach service for children in need of care and protection.

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Students can call 1800 11 8004 from any part of the country. The operators will answer general queries and also connect them to the counselors for psychological counseling. The helpline will be operational from 08 a.m to 10 p.m. On-line counseling on:

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Dial 1800-11-6555 for expert advice on reproductive, maternal and child health; adolescent and sexual health; and family planning.

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