Read-y or Not: Pumping Up Kids’ Love of Lit
Between Twitter and Facebook, Skype and YouTube, “Jersey Shore” and “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” the idea of reading a book with actual words and pages can seem less than palatable to kids and teenagers with so many other engrossing distractions to indulge in. Yet reality TV and technology mania aside, the book market is booming: In the last two years, there has been an 87 percent increase in the number of young adult titles fresh off the presses. That’s the good news.
The bad news, says engineer-turned-literary-agent Regina Brooks, is not enough of those are targeting young African-American readers. “Fortunately and unfortunately, a lot of the books that get published have to do with slavery and history, books that could typically be sold to the school or library market,” she says. A wider variety of genres would make it even easier to get young folks as excited about books as they are about Lil’ Wayne’s next album (or at least kind of close).
To fire up a passion and love for literature among Black students, Brooks co-founded the YB Literary Foundation (YBLF), a not-for-profit organization that promotes the life-changing benefits of reading for young people, and is the organization’s executive director. She also penned Essence’s 2004 Quick Pick children’s book, Never Finished! Never Done!, and she offers these tips to get everyone from toddlers to teenagers to read between the lines:
• Make reading matter. In the self-absorption of youth when everything is so “all about me,” the material they read has to connect somehow with – who else? – them. “Show kids the book’s relevance to everyday life, and tie it into things that they find interesting,” advises Brooks, “like music and news and sports and the Internet.”
• Connect both sides of the page. Reading and writing go hand in hand, so encouraging young people to keep a diary, pen poetry or get involved in journalism could spark the fire for reading books.
• Find books that reflect their readers. Established readers enjoy the escapism that books provide, the fantasy lands they can visit with just the flip of a page. Novices, however, may enjoy more around-the-way stories with characters they can connect to, like the Payton Skky series by Stephanie Perry Moore (though Brooks points out that there is still a wide open market for similar books targeting young Black boys).
• Talk it out. Make discussion an active part of the reading process, which develops kids’ critical thinking skills without them even really knowing it. The YBLF hosts a series of reading ciphers that interweave young people’s connection to pop culture and their own personal experiences with activities that literally bring the literature to life through visual art and music. Students can touch, hear and see a connection to the print material.
To learn more about the YBLF and what it’s up to in the community, visit www.ybliterary.org. – Janelle Harris