Take a Look, It's in a Book
By Susan Jacoby, Librarian
“Do your kids read books?”
Taking a coffee break between workshops at a national conference about a year ago, I had struck up a conversation with a woman sitting near me who, it turned out, was also a school librarian. We’d spent a pleasant few minutes happily talking all kinds of esoteric “library stuff” that almost no one else is interested in when, out of the blue, she put this question to me.
“Do your kids read books?”
At first I was startled. Then confused. The woman must have read the look on my face, because she then clarified. “At my school,” she said, “past third grade no one comes into the library for books anymore – they’re all reading on their devices.”
So many things went through my mind: This is one of my worst fears. Will she think we’re weird when I tell her that our kids DO, indeed, read actual books? Am I deluding myself? Is it only a matter of time before books go the way of the dinosaur?
And then I took a deep breath and told her what our library is like. I told her that kids do, indeed, read actual books well past third grade. As I talked, I relaxed. I talked about how kids run in and out of our library all day long. I smiled as I recalled the myriad conversations I have with children every day about books – actual, hold- in-your-hands, turn-the-next-page, use-a-physical-bookmark books.
“Susan, have you got the tenth Diary of a Wimpy Kid yet? Can I have it first, pleaaaaase?”
“Susan, you really have to get the Land of Stories series for the library, it’s SO good!”
“Susan, I’m looking for books on old people – can you help me find one?”
“Susan, I can’t believe Tui T. Sutherland actually lives here – I thought all the famous authors lived in L.A. or something…”
Okay, some days I want to change my name – but honestly, I wouldn’t trade a little solitude to get some work done for these precious moments of interaction with kids around books.
And no, I am not opposed to other forms of reading. Many children I know also read on devices, as do I. And I love listening to a well-narrated audiobook as much as many of the kids do. I just think of these modes of reading as being in addition to, rather than instead of, reading physical books with their creamy pages, their artful jacket covers, their heft and weight in your hands.
And I think most of the children with whom I work agree. In September, I surveyed the sixth grade class about modes of reading. Most of them do take advantage of multiple modalities – but a surprising number (in fact, a majority) registered a preference for a physical book.
Recently, we held our annual Atrium Fall Book and Game Fair, in conjunction with two local vendors, Porter Square Books of Cambridge and Gamewright of Newton. Weeks before, I had kids asking me, “Are we having a book fair? When’s it going to be?” When I asked the 3rd – 5th graders to make posters to advertise the fair, they couldn’t wait to help, and came up with colorful, vibrant creations that they gleefully posted all over the building.
As our incredibly hard-working parent volunteers (who do ALL the heavy-lifting for our book fairs) began setting up the bookshelves the night before the fair, children hovered, some literally jumping up and down, in their excitement to get at the books. They were also excited (and some just a bit shy) to meet the four “real-live authors” whom Atrium parent and YA author Diana Renn brought to our school to sign books at the fair. Our students enjoyed having the opportunity to meet with Jen Malone, Deborah Sosin, Ammi-Joan Paquette and Josh Funk.
One third grader visited me in the library on the second day of the fair, to show me her copy of the new, illustrated Harry Potter. “I thought there were no pictures of Hermione, but look, here’s one!” We both agreed it was just how we envisioned her in our minds. “I hope you’re going to get this for the library,” several children told me, and I promised that I would.
“Do your kids read books?” Yes. They do. All the time. True, some children seem to eat books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while others are more reluctant readers; but even these can often be found during library time poring over a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records or waiting for the latest Wimpy Kid or new offering from Rick Riordan (best friends of many a “reluctant reader”).
And so, as I recall that conversation over a year later, I find myself feeling very, very thankful for Atrium’s wonderful community of book enthusiasts.