Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What’s In It for Me? A Book for Whatever Interests You

Over the past two weeks I have attended two very different education conferences.  One was AASL—The American Association of School Librarians; the other was NYSCATE—New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education.  If I had just attended the first one, I would have thought we authors were doing really well. Many people recognized me from my nametag—a heady experience.  (Although not everyone recognized my name, a sufficient number did, so I felt like I’ve made some progress over these years.)  At the second conference, I was anonymous although my session:  “Authors Collaborating with Teachers and Students” was particularly well attended.  Obviously, librarians know about and value authors.  Technology teachers have a lot to learn.

This conclusion was not news to me.  Four or five years ago, I did my very first videoconference (Skype-type visit) with a school in Pennsylvania.  I had been hired by the tech teacher who was looking for something of educational value for her classroom-teacher colleagues.  Although my presentation wasn’t about any particular book  (it’s called “Science Surprises”) I did mention that some of the tricks we were doing were in my book We Dare You!  The tech teacher’s evaluation of my presentation was not a rave. She said something like, “I didn’t hire you to do a book commercial.”  When I explained that writing books was what I did, she countered that she wanted me to present material that wasn’t in my books.  I mentally sputtered a protest:  “But my best stuff is in my books..”   My take-away is that you have to set up the proper expectations for a program, especially for people who don’t get what authors are about.  And there are a lot of them out there.

According to the Jenkins Group, a book publishing services firm, only 30% of Americans read books.  Less than 15% read books on any regular basis.  One third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.  Forty-two percent of college grads never read another book after college.  Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year and 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.  Fifty-seven percent of new books are not read to completion and half of those are not read past page 18.  I would be curious to know how much teachers read.  If a child asks a question on a subject that the teacher doesn’t know the answer to, does the teacher suggest that the child look up the answer on Google or get a book on the subject?  When it comes to teaching content, does the teacher rely on a textbook or explore the availability of other books for children on the same subject?  We authors and readers of this blog live in a bubble.  Books are so ingrained in our lives we can’t imagine living without them.  But if we are going to produce a generation of college and career ready students, as per the CCSS, we are going to have to sell our non-book-reading colleagues on the value of books. Here are a few suggestions:

Technology teachers and their students might want to read:

Technology by Clive Gifford

Physical education teachers and their students might want to read:
Fourth Down and Inches by Carla Killough McClafferty

Social workers and students who have anger issues might want to read: 
Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin

A music teacher might want every member of the school orchestra to read
The Young Musician’s Survival Guide by Amy Nathan

An art teacher might want students to read: 
Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

Orthopedists and school nurses might want to include my book, Your Body Battles a Broken Bone in their waiting rooms. 

For every situation, discipline, or topic, there may exist a wonderful children’s book that will not only shed new light on the subject but also foster an interest in learning more.  It’s time we left our own echo-chamber and became a part of the national education conversation.  Books not only answer questions but open up possibilities for every individual.  It’s time they were rediscovered.

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