Niagara Gazette — “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.”
— From “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston, 1937
Every time I read “Their Eyes …” I find something new; that first line’s meaning keeps changing.
It was probably the comforting sound of my mother’s voice combined with the children’s stories she read aloud to us that ignited my life-long fascination with reading and storytelling.
A habit that has stuck with me for more than 60 long years, I’ve carried it over to many of the children and a few of the adults in my life today who appreciate sharing the amazing joy of reading, especially to each other.
It’s a good thing, reading is, a very good thing — but according to the National Adult Literacy Survey there are 40 million functionally illiterate adults in America today.
A report recently published by Do Something (dosomething.org) recently published Eleven Facts About Literacy in America:
1. Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
2. One in four children in America grows up without learning how to read.
3. As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous.
4. Literacy is a learned skill. illiteracy is passed down from parents who can neither read nor write.
5. Nearly 85 percent of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60 percent of all inmates are functionally illiterate.
6. 53 percent of 4th graders admitted to reading recreationally “almost every day,” while only 20 percent of 8th graders could say the same. (2009 study)
7. 75 percent of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest 2 levels of literacy, and 90 percent of high school dropouts are on welfare.
8. Teenage girls ages 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty level and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than the girls their age who can read proficiently.
9. Reports show that low literacy directly costs the health care industry over $70 million every year.
10. In 2013, Washington, D.C. was ranked the most literate American city for the third year in a row, with Seattle and Minneapolis close behind.
11. Long Beach, Calif., was ranked the country’s most illiterate city, followed by Mesa, Ariz., and Aurora, Colo.
I’m certainly not sure how our brains work, and I’m not alone; scientists have forever, it seems, been trying to figure out how the human brain learns to read. One study, “The Brain Learns to Read” by The Center 4 Learning’s David Sousa, published in 2011, “to promote deeper understanding of the reading process” concluded that “no one method of teaching has triumphed” and that “nearly two-thirds of low income 4th graders cannot read at the proficient level..
Among other things, the report also found that, “Brains of young struggling and dyslexic readers can be rewired to more closely resemble those used by typical readers” and that:
• The ability to acquire spoken language is encoded in our genes
• It diminishes with age
• There are gender differences
• Female brains are more efficient
• Repeated sounds get most attention in young brains
• Vocabularies are formed from parents, caregivers
• Frequent adult-to-toddler conversations create greater vocabulary development
I’m not sure exactly what our own local literacy numbers actually look like, but I am certain that there is always room for improvement, and to that end, I offer the following resources, beginning with the children.
Our local libraries offer a good array of opportunities to get the young’uns reading. As a member of the NIOGA Library System (Niagara, Orleans, Genesee Counties) a good collection of children’s reading material is available to everyone including downloadable audio and eBooks as well as hardcover traditional books that the children can learn to read for themselves, and/or can be read to them.
In addition, the local book stores offer a great variety of material for every age group and skill level. Check out the Book Corner at 1801 Main St., Barnes & Noble at 28 Old Falls St. or the House of Fantasy at 1709 Pine Ave. where a great collection of classic comic books awaits your perusal.
Publishers Weekly puts out a regular list for summer reading; take a look at these:
“Steal the Menu” by Raymond Sokolov, long-time New York Times culinary critic’s humorous and enlightening tales of his life at the table;
“Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age” by Allen Barra, an interest look at a cherished time gone by.
Scholastic, the children’s book publisher has issued their annual Summer Challenge, inviting kids to read as much as possible this summer and compete for the World Record number of words read by their school. Last year the total number of words read reached nearly 96 million!
There are plenty of great classic children’s books to choose from as well as a wonderful selection of new reading, including:
National Geographic’s Kids Bird Guide of North America, by Jonathan Alderfer, crammed with “easy activities, and illuminating photography”, a good resource for the 6- to 9-year-old kids here in our wonderful natural habitat, and for the 3- to 6-year-olds, there’s the “Grumpy Goat,” by Brett Helquist; the story of the resident animals of Sunny Acres Farm who desperately try to cheer up the newest arrival, a grumpy goat.
Not to be out-done, AARP has gotten in on the reading craze offering their selections of “good” books to pique senior’s interests including:
“Snow White Must Die,” by Nele Neuhaus, “an international best seller with a twisty-turny plot to keep you guessing”, and “A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not Ripley,” by Neal Thompson, “the most fascinating biography of the summer …”
So, there you have it; a few good books, and a few good reasons for everyone to get back to the amazing joy, no excuses!Contact Bill at email@example.com