Jon Scieszka On The Importance Of Literacy

March 6, 2008


As seen in Notes From The Horn Book: “The Library of Congress has named Jon Scieszka the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a two-year appointment that will have the popular author of such books as The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and, most recently, the Truck Town series speaking around the country on the importance of literacy and the pleasures of reading.

1. What do you hope the position of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature can do for young readers (and would-be/could-be readers)?I’m hoping the National Ambassador will be a champion for kids—someone who can stand up for them and fight for their right to read for fun . . . and not just for the assignment, the questions, the testing that seem to follow every bit of reading. I also hope the Ambassador will be able to connect all those would-be/could-be readers with that text that will make them I-am-a-reader readers.2. What do you say to a parent who says, “My kid hates to read. What can I do?” Try expanding your definition of reading to include humor, nonfiction, graphic novels, magazines, fantasy, science fiction, online content, audiobooks. Your kid may just hate to read assigned reading. Ask them what they are interested in. Empower them by letting them choose to read, and to choose what to read. Allow them to not like what might be your favorite reading. Be a positive role model. Talk to your kids about how you choose your reading, what you like, and what you don’t. Avoid demonizing new technologies. TV, games, the Internet, and movies compete for kids’ time and attention. But they are not the anti-reading devil. We need to help kids become critical consumers of all media. They can enjoy both TV and books. Each provides its own pleasures.3. . . . or to one who says, “My kid only reads (Harry Potter, sports magazines, the Time Warp Trio). How do I expand his horizons?”Feed the obsession. Let your reader read everything Potter/sports/Time Warp they can. Then look for similar types of reading that they can branch off to. The Harry Potter fan can try other fantasy fiction, the Time Warp reader might head into history. Ask librarians and booksellers for recommendations. Wider reading is all about making connections.4. We hear a lot about boys not reading; what about girls?The girls are doing better than the boys, but the overall trend for both genders is drifting down toward less reading. Though I do think some of that is just the setup of the statistical model. All kids are doing less sitting-down-reading-a-novel than kids did ten years ago, but they are also doing all kinds of online reading and writing that didn’t exist ten years ago. I’m careful to not ignore girls in this challenge to engage reluctant readers. Girls benefit from less testing and more pleasure reading, too.5. What difference does reading make, anyway?

That is the million—maybe billion!—dollar question. As someone who enjoys all kinds of reading, I feel that the kids who don’t become readers are missing the entertainment, information, enlightenment, and challenge that I get from reading. But we readers should not be so smug as to think that every kind of reading is superior to any other activity. My son taught me that he got more and better information from watching hockey on TV than he did from reading about it in the newspaper. My daughter explained to me the low-brainwave pleasures of reading celebrity magazines, but would never claim it as a superior activity to watching a well-made episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “The Office.” But I do think that, ultimately, reading allows us to be critical thinkers. If we aren’t able to understand the nuanced details of, say, health care or education or finance policy, we are at the mercy of soundbite slogans, swiftboating, and bumpersticker campaigns. Readers are thinkers.”

If you’re inspired to go read a book but aren’t sure what to read, try Jon Scieszka’s website: where he provides lots of suggestions for great books for guys of all ages.


One Response to “Jon Scieszka On The Importance Of Literacy”

  1. I am so thrilled that Jon Scieszka is our first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature! How awesome for all of us, but especially for kids. Hooray for fun reading! See Jon go!! Go, Jon, go!

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