Scholastic has unveiled its sixth Kids and Family Reading Report, its biannual look at the habits of young readers ages 0–17 and their families. Among the biggest takeaways for librarians are the issues of access and discovery, according to Scholastic’s senior library manager, Deimosa Webber-Bey.
the book ownership divide
One of the key findings of the report is just how important reading is to all kids. But there’s a big divide in book ownership among families. The average home has 104 kids’ books—but that number jumps to 127 books in households with an income over $100,000 and falls to 69 books for families making less than $35,000. A similar discrepancy exists among Latinos and African Americans. On average, Hispanic families have 91 children’s books in their homes and African American families report having 67.
That creates a tremendous opportunity for librarians to supplement these numbers through library usage and book ownership, says Webber-Bey—especially as 51 percent of children and teens are turning to school libraries and teachers for book recommendations and another 16 percent rely on public libraries. When Webber-Bey was a librarian in Rio Rancho (NM) Public Library, for instance, she used advanced reading copies she’d gotten from ALA conferences or from publishers to use as prizes for raffles and during summer reading challenges. “I also became friends with the owner of a comic book shop who gave me prizes and included me in on his orders for ‘Free Comic Book Day'; all I had to do was let him stamp the shop’s information on the back of the comics!” she notes, adding that libraries should “quadruple their comic book, graphic novels, and manga collections” to attract more tweens and teens.
divide and conquer
Another tactic: Go to the kids, wherever they are. Since 2005, the Fairfax County, VA, public libraries’ early literacy teams (plus volunteers) have fanned out to childcare centers and Head Start programs across the county for read-alouds every month. Every year the program has grown, says Ted Kavich, the library’s program and educational services manager. Last year, the program distributed nearly 25,000 books to 2,200 preschoolers, or 10 to 12 books per child.
While the early literacy program is geared to the youngest readers, the Fairfax County library also has creative ways to entice grade-schoolers to check out its offerings, including parent-kid book groups, STEM-related events with LEGO, and a Summer Reading Adventure that not only features a reading challenge, but events showcasing magic and live animals, says Kavich.
talk up books—and read them aloud
Even with all this help, 41 percent of kids and teens confess to having trouble finding stories they enjoy—something most parents don’t really realize, according to Scholastic’s report. That’s where book talks and readers’ advisories can help, says Webber-Bey. “I like to ask library patrons what they have read that they didn’t like, in order to see what turns them off, as well as what they have read that they loved,” she explains.
Don’t underestimate the power of storytime for older kids, either. While 72 percent of kids ages 6–11 love being read to, only 38 percent of parents are taking the time for read-alouds with their 6-to-8-year-olds, and a mere 17 percent of parents tell stories to their 9-to-11-year-olds, according to the report. If you want to “sell” a book to a kid, read a passage from it—especially if it’s a funny one, such as Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going, and anything by Gordon Korman, notes Webber-Bey. (Bonus points for changing your voice up to imitate the character.)
“Overall, the report is a reminder for librarians that parents and kids want good stories, humor, and strong characters,” says Webber-Bey. “If we can improve access and discovery, then we are giving kids the opportunity to practice and develop the reading skills that allow them to achieve academic success, as well as the chance to fall in love with stories and expand their world through nonfiction.”
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