‘Read Across America’

“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” This is what comes of reading for enjoyment. If this is not the case, the right book has simply not been discovered.

Tomorrow is “Read Across America Day,” a good time to think about how good it is to pick up a book and read.

Reading is not merely child’s play or something done only in school. It is good for all ages. For young children, books introduce them to the world of written language. When a child crosses the threshold from learning to read to reading to learn, it opens the doors to limitless ideas and topics. It is true that much reading is required in school to increase fluency, to practice comprehension skills, and to learn about the arts and sciences as part of a well-rounded education. At higher levels, reading well helps a student develop a deep understanding in chosen fields of study.

Nevertheless, school aside, reading keeps the mind sharp regardless of age. Reading can provide pure entertainment or ongoing learning in any area.

“A house without books is like a room without windows” expresses how reading opens up the world. It would be a dull world if all we knew were the inner walls of our homes and never looked out at the people and nature or let the sunshine come in.

This is not to say that there isn’t value in other media such as educational television, but there is something about reading that allows a person to experience another dimension when a “movie” is created in one’s mind and imagination.

Reading for pleasure becomes a matter of taste and preference for a particular genre of course, but even one bookcase can have much diversity. How about “Make Way for Ducklings,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Black Beauty,” “101 Famous Poems,” the Holy Bible, “Stories and Speeches of Abraham Lincoln,” “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families,” “Complete Do It Yourself Manual” and Guide to the Therapeutic Use of Oils?

The National Education Association started “Read Across America Day” in 1998 to encourage all school age children to read more. March 2, the birthday of children’s author Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) was the day chosen. Because the date falls on a weekend this year, it will be celebrated on March 3 in schools. Many schools usually plan fun activities to motivate children to do more reading, to encourage better achievement in school and to make students life-long learners.

Many schools participate throughout the school year in a program called Accelerated Reader. This program is motivating and effective because students can choose from over 150,000 diverse books ranging in grade level from .3 (kindergarten) to 15.7 (post 12th grade). Students then use the AR website to take short comprehension quizzes. The program awards points for level of difficulty and keeps track of cumulative words read over time.

Some schools may require a certain amount of reading as part of a report card grade or provide extra incentives. Fredonia Central Elementary School has a wall where students build large print ice cream cones; adding a “scoop” with his or her name on it for every 100,000 words read. Students who reach one million words are recognized as “millionaires.”

Research from Scholastic shows the value of reading, particularly when it is self-selected and done routinely. The most compelling finding is that if a child reads as much as one million words per year, he or she will be in the top two percent of all children on standardized testing. This is powerful considering the use of the SAT for college entrance and scholarships. On the other hand, a child who reads only up to 8000 words per year will be in the bottom two percent. Students who read widely and frequently are higher achievers than those who read rarely and narrowly. Independent reading is a powerful method for increasing reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension

Skill at reading is likely to reduce future poverty and crime given the fact that many adults at the lowest literacy levels live in poverty, and a great number of people in prison read at a low level. Even though children who grow up where books are plentiful go further in school than those who don’t, this same body of research indicates that children with low-education families can do as well if they have access to books at home.

A great book to add to any bookshelf is “Gifted Hands The Ben Carson Story.” An autobiography, it is the success story of a man who grew up in poverty in inner-city Detroit. His mother only had formal schooling through third grade. Working several jobs to provide for her two sons, she drove home the message that they were capable of doing anything because they were smart and could achieve through honesty, respect, and hard work.

A turning point for Ben was when he was in fifth grade. Failing in school, his mom insisted that there would be no play until he learned his multiplication facts. Reluctantly he did so, after which he said his scores soared and school became enjoyable. He felt what is was like to succeed.

A wise mother, she told Ben and his brother that they could only watch three television shows per week. Yes, parents can set the rules and she did. She required that her sons read two books a week and submit book reports to her. Off to the library they walked each week.

She said, “If you can read, honey, you can learn just about anything you want to know. The doors of the world are open to people who can read. And my boys are going to be successful in life, because they’re going to be the best readers in the school.”

Ben read just as his mother had insisted, and it became a habit for life. This young African American boy experienced incredible success from that time forward and eventually became a brilliant and skilled neurosurgeon at John Hopkins Medical Institution.

“Think big,” Ben Carson’s message to youth, prescribes how to achieve success. Is it any wonder that the “B” in “big” stands for books?

In his words, “I emphasize that active learning from reading is better than passive learning such as listening to lectures or watching television. When you read, your mind must work by taking in letters and connecting them to form words. Words make themselves into thoughts and concepts. Developing good reading habits is something like being a champion weightlifter. The champion didn’t go into the gym one day and start lifting 500 pounds. He toned his muscles, beginning with lighter weights, always building up, preparing for more. It’s the same with intellectual feats. We develop our minds by reading, by thinking, by figuring things for ourselves.”

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” is some good food for thought as well as, “The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read.”

This is good advice for any age from the very young to the very old. Parents could also start their own “Ben Carson Club.” Take a stand and limit television and electronic games. Insist on reading.

Make it a good week and read a great book.

Mary Burns Deas writes weekly for the OBSERVER. Comments can be directed to lifestyles@observertoday.com