Review: HOW TO GET YOUR SCREEN-LOVING KIDS TO READ BOOKS FOR PLEASURE by Kaye Newton

Kaye Newton’s How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure is geared toward parents frustrated with how the reading lives of their children are hijacked by the allure of cell phones, iPads, and other screen-based devices. Although Newton acknowledges that screen-based engagement is here is stay, her new book is full of ideas about how to develop a culture of reading at home.

Newton has done her homework. Drawing on experiences with her own children, as well from reading research, and the work of experts such as Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Jim Trelease, Newton emphasizes the importance of kids choosing the books they read.

Beginning with background to help parents understand why pleasure reading is critically important for kids, and how it looks and feels to today’s students, Newton notes that “the time they spent reading for pleasure dropped off at age eleven, when they entered middle school.” Newton explains how school and personal technology frequently generate barriers for the reading lives of young people.

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure then takes readers through a variety of reading-related scenarios filled with strategies for parents to try based on Newton’s sixteen-month journey of successfully encouraging her own children to spend more time with books and less time with social media. These pages have tips galore, more than it is possible to employ, and that’s one of this book’s beauties: an awareness that the best education is highly individualized. Newton wisely acknowledges that “a tip that worked for one of my children wouldn’t necessarily engage the others.”

Other topics Newton discusses include approaching pleasure reading with children who have learning differences, the value of graphic novels and audiobooks, reading in the summer vs. reading during the school year, ways to think about rewards and incentives, book clubs for different age groups, why nonfiction matters in the “fake news” era, and how to talk to schools and teachers about their reading cultures or lack thereof. The “Frequently Asked Questions” chapter includes responses to questions that I’ve heard many times, as well as a few new ones. For example, is it OK if my child reads the ending of the book first?

Newton also includes many specific title recommendations for a variety of reading needs. As the 2018 copyright indicates, the suggestions are up to date, including Nic Stone’s Dear Martin and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give.

My only quibble with How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure is that it goes too easy on those schools and classrooms that choose not to develop lifelong readers. Newton says, “public-school teachers are pressured to teach to state requirements and don’t have much time to encourage reading for pleasure.” I don’t accept that. As Donalyn Miller said in a Nerdy Book Club post, “No matter our professed pedagogy, our consistent actions and behaviors reveal what we truly value. What do our rituals and routines communicate to students that we value about reading?” Saying that the curriculum is too full or that test preparation requirements preclude inculcation of pleasure reading is too easy. I’ve seen and helped dozens of teachers make the turn from no-choice to choice, and each educator who has stuck with it reports that students develop stronger reading habits when they choose their own reading material and have time to read them in school. In my own classroom, ten minutes a day of reading self-selected books made a bigger positive difference than anything else I’ve ever done. Parents and teachers need to work together on this issue.

Kaye Newton gives readers clear, practical advice about the world of today’s developing young readers. How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure is an excellent resource for parents, but I hope educators will also read it. Many of the strategies and recommendations apply to school as well as home, or can be easily adapted for classroom use. Today’s ubiquitous technology has some advantages, and it’s not going away, so leveraging it or balancing it to enhance the reading lives of children is a pressing need both at home and at school.

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