The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently published a study on reading. It confirms what most teachers and librarians already know. Kids read less and less. The stats show a particularly alarming drop among teenagers. They spend more time on the internet and less time with the printed word (duh). Dana Gioia, the NEA chairman, called this “alarming data. ” It’s from a “general culture which does not encourage or reinforce reading.”
The number of 17 year olds who read at least something for pleasure has dropped dramatically. It went from 31 percent back in 1984 to about 20 percent today. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 spend an average of 7 minutes a day reading for pleasure. People over 55 spend on average nearly 1 hour per day reading. Older people also read newspapers. Young people don’t. This fact has put great stress on the old-school newspaper and journalism side of publishing.
Time for novelists to jump off high buildings? Give up writing? No. But it’s time for writers in general to wake up and look around. The next generation of readers is not guaranteed. We must do more and we must do better if we want to keep kids reading.
For concerned parents and teachers, the biggest question is this. How can a novel compete with a video game that includes sound, action, 3-D imagery and more. The answer? It can’t. At least not very well. So why not pair a novel to a video game? If a kid continually plays professional sports video games like MLB or NFL, find him related baseball and football novels. For baseball, my “Billy Baggs” triology of Striking Out, Farm Team, and Hard Ball will work https://willweaverbooks.com/books/baseball-novel-for-teens/. There are several good YA football novels out there, too. If the kid is focused on fantasy video games, find him good fantasy novels. Don’t despair over video games. Use them as a bridge back to the printed word.
Some publishers (and authors) see promise in “value-added” books. I did this recently with my MotorNovel Series: Saturday Night Dirt, SuperStock Rookie, and Checkered Flag Cheater. The trilogy was accompanied by an actual stock car https://willweaverbooks.com/books/saturday-night-dirt/. I put together a racing team, hired a teen driver, and brought the race car to schools across the Midwest. Teachers and librarians loved it–as did a big bunch of teen readers (boys in this case), who normally didn’t read books. I figured if I couldn’t catch boys’ attention with a very loud race car–and some novels to go with it–then all was lost. Turns out it wasn’t. It took some serious creativity and effort, but I managed to hook a bunch of new readers.
In short, if we make a concerted effort there are successes to be had. Let’s hear your ideas about how to keep kids reading!
P.S. My driver, Nicole, is from a serious racing family in Minnesota. Racing is not just a guy thing, and reading is not just a girl thing.