Reading is hard.
It has always been so.
It is one of the most cognitively challenging tasks that we ask of our selves and of our students.
To read well, even harder.
So many distractions.
So many videos. Bright, flashing images and the compulsory need to click and like and share and the unyielding need to “level up.”
I see it with my own students, my children, and to be honest, with myself.
My impression that fostering the gifts of reading is difficult and is growing even more difficult is underscored by the research of Dr. Jean Twenge, whose research shows that teens now are reading less on a daily basis than at any point in the last 30 years, with only 20% of the teens reading a book or newspaper article daily. Nearly a third of the students did not even read a single book for pleasure in a calendar year, rather they are spending nearly 6 hours a day texting, using social media and playing video games.
In an effort to do something, anything about what I perceive to be a hinge point in our cultural evolution-are we going to be rational individuals with some semblance of self-agency or denziens in the dystopia imagined by M.T. Anderson’s Feed-I reached out to one of my favorite sources of solace and knowledge- a librarian to seek some guidance and wisdom on the topic.
I was grateful for Ms. Nisa Kesseler, the Teen Services Librarian at the Petoskey District Library for her ideas.
Ms. Kesseler has some keen insights into how to improve the teen reading culture, empathically saying:
“LET KIDS AND TEENS READ WHAT THEY WANT!!!! Don’t criticize or mock their choices. If you help them build a love of reading for enjoyment, the simple act of reading these materials will build their literacy skills. Also, let them check out audio books and graphic novels! Both of these formats help build literacy and fire a love of literature. Don’t get hung up on “levels”. Just allow them to find those books that ignite a passion for reading. The rest will follow.”
Ms. Kesseler has a lifelong affinity for reading, saying:
” I have always been interested in reading, from a very young age. Literacy became a passion of mine during college when I was studying to be a High School English teacher. Being literate opens up the world of information and entertainment for so many people that it is important for us to reach all the kids, teens, and adults who are struggling, for a variety of reasons, with literacy.”
Additionally, she relies on her own experience as a high school student to look for innovative ways to reach students both as an English teacher and librarian, with her passion fomenting in high school:
“The main thing in high school that moved me to want to teach English was the books we were reading. I felt that new ideas and books were needed to get teens to actually care about what they were reading. The canon definitely needs to be shaken up! “
In her efforts to stay current and connected to the community she serves, Ms. Kesseler is a voracious reader:
“Being a Teen Services Librarian, I’ve been reading a lot of YA fiction, plus some fantastic graphic novels. But, the one thing that has made a huge impact on me recently has been reading Dr. Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature. We have a large Native American population up here and I want to make sure I am serving them the best I can and, as a white woman, I don’t always know when a book is problematic. This blog is incredibly helpful in discerning the problems so I don’t inadvertently cause pain to one of my patrons. Here’s a link: https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/“
For those of us for whom reading is as natural and cherished as breathing, let us celebrate the educators and parents and librarians such as Ms. Kesseler whose tireless advocacy to “get teens to actually care about what they were reading,” is an inspiration.