Monday, October 26, 2009

A Rainy Day in August

Now that the Michigan Reads tour is complete, I look forward to writing up some blog posts about the experience. I've got some catching up to do first, though, so it may be a couple of weeks before I'm able to do that. In the meantime, I thought I'd take you back to a rainy day in August, when this year's Michigan Reads program was formally announced. This took place at the first Young Folk BookFest, held in conjunction with the Great Lakes Folk Festival.

I knew I'd be reading my story at the announcement, but I figured I might also have an opportunity to say a word or two. So I prepared a few remarks. Not being much of a public speaker, I can't say I gave a rousing speech; but my comments were heartfelt. As part of my look back at the Michigan Reads experience, I thought I'd share those comments here.

So here they are, pretty much in their entirety (less some thank yous at the beginning):

It is a true privilege to be here. The Pout-Pout Fish is my first book. My lifelong dream of becoming a published writer came true just last year. It’s been an amazing year and a half since Mr. Fish and his friends first arrived in bookstores and libraries. To be standing here today, to have had my and Dan Hanna’s book chosen for this honor, is extremely gratifying.

But what is important to me is not that this particular book was chosen. What matters is that the Michigan Reads program exists. Michigan Reads is a proactive program that directly supports childhood literacy. The existence of Michigan Reads says great things about our state. It speaks volumes for the importance Michigan places on our #1 natural resource: our kids.

Literacy is what launches a lifetime of learning. Without literacy, children can’t arrive where they are headed. Research shows us that children who have not developed at least some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out of school later. And the lifelong impact of poor reading skills is devastating.

But the good news is that the easiest and most effective way to promote basic literacy skills in young children –- skills that have fancy names such as phoneme awareness and alliteration sensitivity –- is simply to read aloud to kids. To read aloud fun books with silly sounds and plenty of rhyme and word play. To read aloud stories that are so enjoyable they demand to be read over and over again. The particular book doesn’t matter! But reading aloud does. Reading aloud is the easiest way for a parent or caregiver to teach literacy, without ever having to be “instructional.” It’s fun, and it promotes a love of reading that lasts a lifetime.

All of us here work hard in our lives to pass along our love of reading to our children, to our students, to our patrons. For many of us, this is the thing we do that we feel most passionate about. But I would like to suggest to you that there may be even more each of us can do, beyond what we’re already doing. And I would challenge each of you here today to think of some small way in which you can extend your already remarkable literacy reach.

Perhaps for you it might be the simple act of publicly modeling your own reading behavior, being “caught” reading in places kids will see you. For you, it might be offering to be a guest reader at your neighborhood school, or at the preschool you drive by every day on your way to work. Some of you might even consider volunteering time as a reading tutor. Small acts can have a huge impact, and you don’t need to be a celebrity to be a reading hero.

Learning to read is an individual act, but it is one that takes place in a context. When the context is a reading culture –- at the family, school, and community level -- literacy becomes contagious and all but inevitable. Here today, as we celebrate reading and books and kids, we are reminded that we are all a part of that context, that together we create a nurturing reading culture.

What a fabulous thing… that Michigan Reads. Thank you.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Nicely said, I tell new parents all the time to read to their kids, yes for the kids, but also for the time spent together, it's a wonderful way to end the day. In the end, I'm sure it helped foster their incredible (and expensive) reading habits, but what all take away are the hours spent cuddling together--and the ability to recite "A told B and B told C I'll meet at the top of the coconut tree" for the rest of my life.