There are literally dozens of events at each day's session of the American Library Association's annual conference, which is taking place in Washington, D.C. from Saturday, June 26 through Tuesday, June 29. Today, two of the events I attended focused on a common theme: getting kids to read. One of the events, however, didn't even involve books. Instead, the session titled Listen Up! was designed to promote listening to audiobooks as a way to get kids-- especially reluctant boy readers -- to read. The other session, titled Move Over Dick and Jane, focused on the fact that, despite the new Geisel Award for the best beginning readers, publishers still don't seem to be doing much to improve the mostly dreadfully-dull-but-important beginning reader books.
The Listen Up session was chaired by beloved children's author Jon Scieszka, who drew a crowd of several hundred people. Scieszka made a big pitch for his newest endeavor, Guys Listen, a spin-off of his popular Guys Read website. The main point of the new program is, of course, to encourage parents, librarians and educators to let young readers read books by listening to audiobooks. The website includes research on how listening to books helps develop key skills, such as reading fluency and vocabulary, and allows kids to listen to books two grades above their book-reading level. Besides, the idea of listening to a book on an MP3 player or even portable CD player appeals to today's technology-minded kids. As Scieszka says,
Guys love technology. They say I want a thing -- not a book -- a thing.... A big piece of Guys Read is not to demonize technology, which is like breathing air to these kids. They don't care if it's on a phone or a computer or an MP3 player. Other presenters emphasized the fact that using audiobooks really takes us back to the roots of storytelling, and to kids' earliest, pre-reading years, when parents read aloud to them. Many kids also are auditory learners, which makes listening to books a natural, and more satisfying, way to learn. Overall, Scieszka said,
We need to get the word out that listening to books is not cheating!
Finding new ways to help kids enjoy reading also was the focus of the Move Over Dick and Jane program. As any parent knows, many of the beginning readers used to help kids learn to read are duller than dull. In the past few years, however, there's been various efforts to improve beginning readers. Perhaps the most important effort has been the creation of the Geisel Award, named for Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The Geisel Award is given annually to the best books for beginning readers; several honor books also are chosen. So far, many of the winners haven't been typical beginning readers, but instead have been simple non-fiction books, picture books and even graphic novels. Among my favorite Geisel Award winners are: Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler; the Elephant and Piggy books by Mo Willems; and two graphic novels, Stinky by Eleanor Davis and Benny and Penny in the Big No-No by Geoffrey Hayes. But Ginny Moore Kruse, a noted librarian who has helped shape the Geisel Award criteria, told the overflow crowd attending Saturday's program that publishers of beginning readers still don't seem to be getting the message. Kruse said there still are
very few innovative, inventive and imaginative books deserving of the award. She also noted that there are few non-fiction books eligible for the award and added that there is a
dramatic and serious paucity of Geisel-eligible books ... even hinting at racial and ethnic diversity.