National Read a Book Day

Did you know that the adult literacy level in the U.S. falls somewhere between 5th and 8th grade? No kidding. What this means is that almost everything published for the general public has to fall somewhere within that range. Take, for example, the newspaper USA TODAY. Not only is the vocabulary simple, but the sentence structures are far less complex than, say, that of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, which expects its audience to read at the college level. Also note USA TODAY's use of empty white spaces, bullets, and pictures.

While teaching college English, I encountered numerous students who were unable to comprehend what they were reading in college textbooks. While often they could read the words when strung together in a given context, students often struggled to comprehend the meaning of what they were reading. This often resulted in a disinterest in reading, if not in the subject area altogether, which was quite unfortunate! Many students, when asked, responded that they did not like to read, and usually did not do so, not even their local newspaper. But functional illiteracy means that you can't grow up to become whatever you want. For example, you can't be a lawyer if you can't understand difficult texts like law books and reviews. It also means that you won't be a good writer. People who don't read struggle with things like proper grammar and complex sentence structures.

As adults we generally understand the need to encourage our younger children to read. Not only does reading help them build a bigger vocabulary, but reading also helps them naturally internalize the structure of the English language. Meaning they will be more likely to speak correct standardized English. Even if they don't know grammar rules, they will have a natural instinct for what is correct. And as a child advances his/her reading level into more complex structures, this ability matures. Mature readers usually have far less struggles when it comes to understanding more difficult material, plus they don't struggle as much with writing. Unfortunately, there is an ever increasing competition for kids' attention, usually in regards to computer games. Kids begin to lose interest in reading and doing homework. As such, my advice to parents would be to limit the use of the computer. Period. Strike a deal with your kids if you have to. Tell them that if they read a certain amount, they get so much computer time. And parents, your kids should see you reading too. Don't make the mistake of saying, "Do as I say, not as I do." If you love reading and can talk about books with your kids, that will help. Take them to movies based on books, but read the books first. And don't worry about what they read so as much as the reading level of the material. If your kid loves to read scary books like the Goosebumps, then find scary books for them to read at their own grade level. Keep reading fun for them. Read with them and let them tell you about their reading, especially when it comes to school books! And never use the word "BORING!" Make connections between what they read and what they love. The reward will be better grades in all subject areas.

So today, celebrate National Read a Book Day by reading an old favorite book, or by starting on something new. Fiction or non-fiction. Be thankful for literacy, and never take reading for granted.


Connie M.

Retired English Professor and published author, writer, & editor

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