Young Adults Read Year 'Round in Reading

By Olson, Renee | American Libraries, June 1994 | Go to article overview

Young Adults Read Year 'Round in Reading


Olson, Renee, American Libraries


Getting young adults to keep reading after they graduate from children's summer reading programs can be as difficult as scraping gum off the bottom of a shoe. But librarians in a Massachusetts town called, ironically enough, Reading (well, okay, it's pronounced "redding"), have found part of the secret.

Each year several hundred 6th-through-8th grade students in this community of 22,000 located just north of Boston take part in recreational reading activities that last all year long. Sponsored by the libraries of Coolidge and Parker Middle Schools and the Reading Public Library, these activities revolve around the Twenty Plus Club, an incentive-filled reading program; the Electronic Bookshelf, a commercial collection of computerized quizzes on fiction titles; and a summer reading program in which readers earn "cash" to use at an auction at summer's end.

"I remember a boy last summer who was going into 6th grade," said Nancy Aberman, young adult librarian at the reading Public Library. "His father told me that his son never used to want to read. After his son got involved with the auction and the Electronic Bookshelf, the father told me that now all his son wants to do is read," said Aberman.

The goal? "To have kids become lifelong readers," said Mary Hichborn, school media specialist at Coolidge Middle School. The key to the townwide program's success is communication and cooperation between the three libraries. "If you can forge that link, then you're on your way," Hichborn added.

The nuts and bolts

Each fall, the goal of most 6th graders in Reading is to pass enough Electronic Book-shelf 10-point quizzes on any of 500 novels to be able to join their schools' Twenty Plus clubs. By reading at least four books and amassing 20 points, students earn small prizes such as highlighters and erasers, the envy of their classmates (students can often be heard comparing point totals), praise from language arts teachers, and the opportunity to attend events such as A Novel Feast, a Coolidge Middle School banquet featuring foods represented in novels.

Hichborn fuels this enthusiasm by "putting in a plug to 5th-grade classes for the club and the summer auction" each spring. Students going into 6th grade can get a head start on joining the club by taking quizzes at the public library during the summer. In fact, students can take quizzes at the public library any time during the year; the software records scores, and Aberman forwards them to the appropriate middle-school library.

The element that lends structure to students' reading at all three libraries is the Electronic Bookshelf, a collection of easy young-adult-novel-based quizzes on floppy disks. The computer asks the quiz-taker to choose one of three answers for each of 10 questions that most often pertain to characters, settings, and plot. Most importantly, the libraries' joint list of book titles and quizzes leads the young adults to books they might not otherwise find.

"The nice thing [about the Electronic Bookshelf] is that the students are reading books . . . they might not normally pick out," Hichborn told the Daily Times Chronicle, a local newspaper that did a story on her club. "It's good to be able to squeeze in books like The Bronze Bow and Prairie Songs. That's really good literature and they don't even know they're doing it. They're reading those because they want more points," she said.

"I think they enjoy trying to |beat' the computer," said Aberman, when asked of the quizzes' appeal to students. "Last summer, we had to bring in a second computer to cut down on lines of kids waiting to take a quiz," she added.

The not-so-lazy days of summer

When summer rolls around, the public library steps into the spotlight. For everybook read (any title, not necessarily those on the Electronic Bookshelf list), young adults accumulate points that can be exchanged for "cash" and used to bid on more than 100 prizes that range from Red Sox tickets to gift certificates at bookstores. …

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