If you're early in your writing career, here's one way to assure job security: Give a child a book.
If you're short on cash, borrow a book and proceed to the next step: Read a child a book. If those five minutes don't count for eternity, they may at least count for a lifetime.
Some good news: If we want to raise a new generation of readers, we're halfway there. A recent report from Scholastic says 51 percent of children 6 to 17 are currently reading a book for fun.
As no surprise, the study found that kids who read often have more books in their home. “Frequent readers” (those who read for fun 5 to 7 days a week) average 205 books at home. Those who read less than once a week average only 129 books.
Also as no surprise, a key practice in growing recreational readers was reading aloud to them, “early and often.” It worked for my children, and it sure worked for me.
A few months ago, I saw a reference to a particular children's book – and instantly I was sitting in my mother's lap as the read me Harry the Dirty Dog. I don't remember if the book had been a gift for Christmas or my birthday, but I sure remember the story by Gene Zion. And the illustrations by his wife, Margaret Bloy Graham.
“Harry was a white dog with black spots who liked everything ... except getting a bath.” With that opening line, I was hooked. An endearing protagonist, immediate conflict, a building crisis, and a surprising story arc: Harry the Dirty Dog had everything a child and future writer could want. Only recently, revisiting the story with adult eyes, did I see the parallel to the Prodigal Son.
Zion and Graham wrote other stories in their Harry series. (My favorite is No Roses for Harry). Graham, who received two Caldecott Honors, died recently at age 94. I wonder how many other readers she – and the people who gave away and read aloud her books – helped grow.