The poster in the library simply says read. The assembly extols the virtues of reading and the school-wide festival also hawks the idea that all students should read. But are these promotions effective? What really makes kids want to read? I did something maybe a little radical. Before I planned my next reading promotion, I asked my patrons what would motivate them to read. This was accomplished easily by creating an online survey through surveymonkey.com. Roughly two-thirds of our school's third, fourth, and fifth grade students took the survey.
Would the kids want the principal to kiss a pig? Would seeing pictures of our teachers reading motivate our students to do the same? Maybe the children wanted points, which could be redeemed for prizes. Who knew what a reading survey would reveal?
It turns out the kids wanted none of the above items. What they actually asked for were good books to read. Books that appeal to kids make them want to read! Of the 402 students who took a reading survey, 52% reported that they would read more if "there were books that interested me more." All the other categories combined did not equal this one answer. When asked what they would suggest to improve the library, 70% of the students typed in a request for a specific book or good books in general.
These results got me thinking about the corporate world. Have you ever seen an advertisement suggesting that you go to the movies? Of course not, all ads are for a particular movie. How about ads to go to restaurants, see shows or vacation anywhere? These ads don't exist because they would not be effective. Corporate ads are for something specific and library media specialists need to do the same.
According to the 2008 Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report, "One of the key reasons kids say they don't read more often is that they have trouble finding books they like—a challenge that parents underestimate. Kids who struggle to find books they like are far less likely to read for fun daily or even twice a week."
Children do not want or need us to tell them to read despite all the time and effort we spend doing just that. Instead we need to put our energy and dollars into helping children find reading material they will be eager to read.
I found it sad that many of the titles Pinewood students suggested in the reading survey were already in the media center collection. A few children asked if we could purchase Harry Potter books despite a full shelf of this series. I now realize that I need to not just own the books but advertise this fact. Other requested books already on our shelves included: Nancy Drew, Goosebumps, Wiley and Grandpa, My Weird School, and Japanese-style Manga graphic novels.
Down came the posters in the library highlighting a season or holiday, down came the posters commanding all to read. Up went pictures of book covers and call numbers directing eager students to the books. I also photocopied the first page of books with interesting text art or compelling pictures and posted these on the library walls along with a color copy of the book cover and the call number for the book or series. Now every wall decoration is also a pathfinder to a book.
Book displays have always been an important part of the library field and the Pinewood library is no different. I constantly remind myself that every book taken from the display is evidence of a child's motivation to read, not the ruin of my beautiful work. After the Pinewood reading survey I changed the focus of all displays. No longer do I put tag lines such as Catch the Reading Bug or Fall into a Good Book. Instead the display gives kids what they want—information about the books. To get youngsters to check out books try tags lines such as books that will make you laugh out loud or scary books only for the brave.
My next book order after the survey included the titles the kids asked for in the survey. Requested titles which I did not already own included the Hannah Montana Series, WWE. wrestling books, Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, and pop artist biographies. Books tied into television shows and biographies of American Idol winners might not seem worthy of school book funds but it turns out they get readers to connect with books. Even these types of books which youngsters choose for free voluntary reading "will help build language competence and contribute to intellectual growth, which will make literature more comprehensible and meaningful (Krashen 2004)."
A good book is a book that a child will want to read. Books that collect dust on the shelves are no good to anyone. Good books will inspire students to read more than rewards, festivals, or even principals kissing sows could ever do. That's a fact that I'm sure will bring great relief to principals all over.
Try some of these other ways to get rid of the generic Read command and replace it with something useful for readers who struggle to find that just right book:
- Take off your lapel pin with the cutesy Read message and replace it with a label that says "Ask me about the new Dan Gutman book."
- Update your bookmark collection with bookmarks that highlight series or individual titles instead of reading in general.
- Make space on your bookshelves for books to be turned cover out instead of spine out. This makes browsing easier.
- Write to the publishers of books asking for promotional materials of new titles. I have received many free posters, displays, and even mugs in this manner.
- When books are being turned into movies full-page ads are frequently in the Arts section of the Sunday New York Times. These can be laminated and used as library posters.
- Put signs in your most popular nonfiction sections directing students to fiction books on the same topic. Often cat lovers don't think about the fiction section but your sign will certainly spark their interest.
Krashen, David D. The Power of Reading: insights fom the research. Libraries Unlimited, 2004.
The 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report. June 11, 2008 www.scholastic.com/aboutscholastic/news/press_06112008_CP.htm