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This summer, let's try to save the endangered bookworm

The Baltimore Sun

Last summer, I flew from Salt Lake City to BWI Marshall Airport and found myself sitting next to two kids from a small town in Utah. Ten-year-old James occupied the seat by the window while his sister Andrea, 8, sat in the middle. The siblings were flying out to visit their father before the coming start of the school year.

I made small talk with Andrea during the takeoff, asking about her family and her favorite movies. Inevitably, the conversation drifted to school, and I asked about the books she had read for class.

"Oh, I don't like to read," Andrea said matter-of-factly. "I like SpongeBob SquarePants."

Sadly, Andrea is not alone. According to the 2007 Maryland Report Card, 20 percent of Maryland's third-graders failed to meet proficient reading levels last year. Nearly a third of eighth-graders fell below similar standards. Nationally, the numbers are just as grim: A 2004 study from the National Endowment of the Arts showed a steady decline in juvenile reading since 1992.

A likely culprit may be found in nearly all of our homes - the television set. On average, a child views 28 hours of TV per week. That's four hours per day. Kids now spend three times longer watching television than reading a book. Like Andrea, children across our state are abandoning books for Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, putting the survival of the young reader in serious jeopardy.

As more kids choose SpongeBob over Harriet the Spy, will there be any hope left for the bookworm? Or will it go the same way as the dodo bird and passenger pigeon?

With summer vacation fast approaching, parents need to take action to help save the bookworm. The best way to accomplish this is to turn off our televisions and to take our children to the library. Over 35 libraries are scattered throughout the city and the greater metropolitan area, and every summer they provide dozens of reading activities for their younger patrons.

This summer, the Baltimore libraries will sponsor a program called "Catch the Reading Bug" for kids of all ages. The program encourages its participants to fill their summer vacation with books, poems, magazines and fairy tales from their own imaginations. Throughout the next three months, local libraries will offer a variety of events to celebrate the joys of reading - from storytelling time to book discussions to ice cream parties and more. Even preschoolers and teenagers have programs geared for their age groups and reading levels. All of these activities encourage children to develop a love for books, and best they're free.

Along with participating in organized programs, families should explore the children's section of the library together. Parents can read stories aloud to children who are too young to read, while older kids can discover the aisles on their own, choosing books that best suit their interests. Over time, the library will transform from an ordinary building into a magical one, a place where kids can travel back in time or into outer space with the mere turn of a page.

And finally, parents should check out a few books for themselves before heading home from the library. When moms and dads read for fun, they project the pleasure and importance of books without having to say a word. What better trait to pass on to your kids than a deep love of reading?

It really doesn't take much to save the bookworm: A trip to the library on a lazy afternoon. A television left off. A parent reading to a child. In an era of DVDs and flat-screen TVs, the library can be a cocoon for the budding bookworm - a haven for young bibliophiles to read and grow. If parents take action and if libraries are properly used, our children will start reaching for books this summer rather than for the remote control.


Caroline Tung Richmond is a freelance writer and longtime bookworm who is working on an children's novel. She lives in Potomac. Her e-mail is carolineltung@gmail.com

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