a brief excerpt from
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
(Penguin, 2013, 7th edition).
Now available as both a paperback and e-book.
See also Handbook
Chapter 6: The Print Climate —
Does the disappearance of newspapers in the home have an impact?
EWSPAPERS and magazines are the home’s “soft” library. For a century they were commonplace enough to be taken for granted. But behind the scenes they were conditioning children to print. All those articles and headlines coupled with so many reading role models spending so much time waving print flags called newspapers and magazines— they were literacy torches passed from parent to child.
The daily newspaper and weekly magazines are presently on life support, the slowest-growing industry in the U. S. From the largest cities to the smallest hamlets, newspaper circulation has been dropping since the 1980s, when it was at 62. 8 million papers, sinking to 47 million in 2011.
What happens when children see fewer adults reading daily?
A Pew Research survey in 2010 found only 31 percent of Americans had obtained news from a newspaper the previous day, as opposed to 56 percent in 1991. Weekly and monthly magazine circulations are dropping as well. Reader’s Digest, once the world’s most popular American magazine, has sunk from 23 million to 5 million. Staffers at print magazines like Time permanently have their bags packed. (Even the 110-year-old classroom staple Weekly Reader saw its demise in 2012.)
These are the publications by which whole generations in America were assimilated into the world of reading, and now they have all but evaporated. David Carr of the New York Times painted a vivid portrait of the print chasm in today’s family, recalling how he grew up in a home where his father and brother jousted for the newspaper (the Minneapolis Star Tribune) over breakfast. Watching them imbibing the scores and headlines with breakfast, Carr thought:
This is what it means to be a grown-up. You eat your food standing up, and you read the newspaper. So I did the same thing when I turned 13. I still do.
Last Wednesday morning at my house, one of my daughters back from college was staying at a friend’s house in the city, no doubt getting alerts on her cellphone for new postings to her Facebook page. Her sister got up, skipped breakfast and checked the mail for her NetFlix movies. My wife left early before the papers even arrived to commute to her job in the city while listening to the iPod she got for Christmas.
True enough, my 10-year-old gave me five minutes over a bowl of Cheerios, but then she went into the dining room and opened the laptop to surf the Disney Channel on broadband, leaving me standing in the kitchen with my four newspapers. A few of those included news about the sale of The Star Tribune, a newspaper that found itself in reduced circumstances and sold at a reduced price to a private equity group.
I looked around me and realized I didn’t really need to read the papers to know why.
True, many newspapers are available for reading online, but that’s done out of children’s sight line, not with a paper waving in their faces. Furthermore, most young parents can’t be bothered anymore. Reading a newspaper is so— so yesterday! Nobody reads all that stuff anymore. We get the news from RSS feeds, blogs, e-tablet alerts, Google, and, of course, from our 729 friends on Facebook. That’s the new way, Daddy.
Reading, when it’s done today, doesn’t go very deep, and it’s so private it’s invisible. The trouble is, how do you pass invisible torches? How do you pose as an invisible role model?