Is sustained reading really “becoming obsolete, like Latin”?

­Dear Readers,

I know many of you have attempted to engage reluctant young readers with good books, particularly young male readers. The Globe and Mail published an article on this dilemma entitled “Hey kids, reading novels will make you rich (and other lies worth telling)” on October 3, 2011, written by Russell Smith in response to a provocative article in the Toronto Star that claimed: “The sustained reading of many pages of text is quickly becoming obsolete, like Latin.” Indeed, according to Michael Reist, a high-school English teacher with 30 years of experience, the study of Latin died a slow death because it could no longer be used for anything, and he concludes that, “the reading of literature in school is dying the same slow death”. I encourage you to read these thought-provoking articles because they raise important questions about reading as a life skill and whether it is being diminished as students spend more time in the “three-minute world” of instant online gratification.

There is little doubt that today’s students are raised in a world where they have innumerable entertainment opportunities in cyberspace, but does this really mean that “big books” are dead? Certainly, authors of children’s and young adult books are acutely aware that they need to develop highly engaging stories to hold the attention of readers, particularly young male readers, but they also know that what attracts young people to video games and other forms of online entertainment is the art of storytelling. In this issue there are plenty of recommended books with great stories to engage young readers (especially boys!), including delightful board books (e.g., My Dad is the Best Playground), fast-paced mysteries (e.g., The Money Pit Mystery), and fun character-driven stories (e.g., Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything), to name but a few.

I can think of numerous reasons to keep literature alive in schools but young people will never get hooked on reading if books are not made available to them from an early age. We need to get excellent books in the hands of young readers on a regular basis. I have already identified half a dozen books from this issue that I will be adding to my holiday gift list for the young people in my life.

Happy reading!

Robert Desmarais
Managing Editor