Today, as part of my How Does YA Lit Inspire You? feature, Priscilla Uppal, Canadian poet, novelist, professor at York University, and member of the Youth Committee for the National Reading Campaign, has generously offered a guest post for my readers. She’s written a great piece about the inspiration behind the National Reading Campaign, what it means for teen readers, and what the committee plans to do to help foster reading for Canadian children, youth, and young adults. While the words she writes are specific to the Canadian reading campaign, the same problems – including a decreasing number of teen readers – happen in other countries as well. Perhaps this message will inspire you to get involved where you live, too. Now, without further ado, I give you Priscilla Uppal’s piece:
The National Reading Campaign has only just begun. Originally, a small group of writers, librarians, educators, publishers, and parents got together to discuss concerns about Canadian reading culture as a whole. Over the last couple of decades, many other countries have adopted national reading strategies and national reading programs to promote reading at all age levels, to build libraries in homes, schools, and other community spaces, and to improve access to books for all, regardless of where someone lives or how much money they have. The group decided that a National Reading Campaign, involving as many educators, policy-makers, librarians, writers, publishers, literary festival organizer, journalists, and, of course, readers, as possible in Canada, would give us all a better sense of where we are as a nation of readers, where we would like to be, and how to get there.
One of the main concerns that have emerged in the National Reading Campaign focuses on teenage readers. The Canadian Heritage Survey, Reading and Buying Books for Pleasure (2005), reports that the number of books read per Canadian per year is declining. And several studies have identified a significant decline of reading at age 13-14, particularly for boys.
Why have studies demonstrated a drop in reading habits during teenage years? Why are teenage boys reading less than teenage girls? Why do so many teenagers find the books taught in classrooms boring and uninspiring?
Those of us already in the National Reading Campaign think these are important questions to address and that we need to involve teenagers more in reading environments that enrich their day-to-day lives.
The main goal of the National Reading Campaign is to foster a nation of readers, to bring together and to cultivate readers from all sectors and walks of life across Canada, especially children, youth, and young adults. Other studies have shown that young people whose pleasure reading is embedded with social contexts (book clubs, online chat discussions, group reading challenges) identify themselves as enjoying reading more, and extra-curricular reading clubs have a positive effect on reading frequency and reading ability.
Teen readers are currently leaders in transporting books from the privacy of a living room chair or an individual classroom into larger, connected technological communities of readers. We want to ensure that the opportunities for discovering books, discussing books, and writing and publishing books in Canada, continue to grow, and to fulfill the needs of teen readers now and in the future.
Teen readers are an amazing and exciting reading community to their own right. They are also the adult readers of the future. Teen readers will define the books that they will read, debate, purchase, recommend to family and friends, and give to their own children. We believe this next generation of Canadian readers deserves as many resources and opportunities as possible to incorporate reading into their lives in meaningful ways.
Here are just some of the teen-centred initiatives advocated by members of the National Reading Campaign:
- More literary festival programming dedicated to teen readers
- More writers-in-the-schools of a variety of genres (young adult readers, graphic novels, poetry, plays) actively engaging with students in the school (and not just in English class)
- More reading and writing camps for teens
- More social reading networks for teen readers and for young adult fiction and non-fiction, including graphic novels, electronic novels, interactive literature
- More online book clubs, blogs, review sites, targeted to male and female teenage readers
At the National Reading Campaign, we believe that reading is a human right. We are actively working to support existing reading programs, social book networks, publishing ventures, literary festivals and more, and to help create new programs and educational and cultural policies that will eliminate barriers to the enjoyment of reading and access to all book-related resources.
We’d love to involve more teenage readers in our campaign itself. This is YOUR campaign too! It’s only just begun. Please contact us to let us know what you would like to see in YOUR vision of an ideal Reading Nation, and how you (or your school or book club) can become an active participant in the growth of reading in Canada.