Category: Reading

Reading = Brain Activity


A new study of 19 preschoolers ages 3-5 years old studied brain activity while the children listened to stories. Done with functional magnetic resonance imaging, the study focused only on listening to stories, no visual stimuli were involved.

Results showed that more reading at home was “strongly associated with activation of specific brain areas supporting semantic processing (the extraction of meaning from language). These areas are critical for oral language and later for reading.”

Areas associated with mental imagery also showed a strong activation, meaning that children were able to “see the story” and watch their imaginations make images.

Kids & Family Reading Report

Scholastic logo

Scholastic has released the results of their 5th national survey on children and reading.  The entire report is available online.  Their key findings are:

  • Half of all children ages 6-17 are currently reading a book for fun and another in five, just finished one.
  • 86% of parents say reading books for fun is extremely or very important, but only 46% of children agree.
  • 75% of parents agree that they want their children to read more books for fun and 71% would like to see their children do less screen time.

There’s lots more data to read and encouragement for families to continue reading aloud at home, sharing books with even the youngest of children, and finding books that inspire children to read for fun.

Reading and Intelligence

A new study from Edinburgh and King’s College in London studied 1890 pairs of identical twins over the course of nine years.  The twins took IQ tests at age seven, nine, ten, 12 and 16.  The results showed that those children who were better at reading had a higher general intelligence.

Because the study used identical twins, genetic and environmental factors were able to be set aside.  The results showed that even with identical twins, if one twin could read better that twin would do better at IQ tests.

This fascinating result shows that being better at reading does more than allow you to read better, it speaks to being deeper than that and more profound.

Read Aloud to Children from Birth


Hurrah!  The American Academy of Pediatrics announced that they will be focusing on having pediatricians tell parents to read aloud to their infants from birth.  This marks the first time that this organization which represents 62,000 pediatricians has made an early literacy recommendation. 

Programs like Reach Out and Read offer connections for pediatricians to get books that they can then offer families living in poverty.  Simply reading aloud to children will dramatically increase the number of words children hear before preschool.  Reading aloud to infants is a powerful message to send to all parents, one that is sure to pay dividends in the years to come!

The New York Times has the story here.

A great video from Half the Sky Movement speaks to the importance of educating girls around the world.  It includes a brilliant quote from Nicholas Kristof:

“Ultimately, the greatest threat to extremism isn’t a drone overhead but a girl with a book.”


Common Sense Media has compiled several studies about reading and their results show a decline in teens reading for pleasure over time. 

  • About a third of 13-year-olds and almost half of 17-year olds reported that they read for pleasure less than twice a year.
  • Reading scores have improved since the 1970s, except for older teens where 17-year-old measures remain about the same.
  • Perhaps the most distressing finding is that the reading gaps between different races in the US have been unchanged in the last 20 years. 
    • 46% of white children are proficient readers
    • 20% of Hispanic children are proficient readers
    • 18% of African-American children are proficient readers

You can read coverage of this report on several sites, though I can’t seem to find the full report online.

baby-316214_1280A study in Frontiers in Psychology, an open access journal, shows that mothers reading picture books to their children share just as much information about the content in narrative and non-narrative picture books.

The study from the University of Waterloo observed 25 mothers as they read books to their toddlers.  One book about animals was narrative while the other book about animals was not.  The study showed that the amount of statements by the mothers about the animals did not vary according to the formats.  The conclusion of the study is:

Although non-fiction books and documentary films may first come to mind when one thinks about the genres of media that are likely to provide natural facts about the world, the present findings suggest that both narrative and non-narrative children’s picture books stimulate such pedagogical talk from mothers. While the narrative books promoted more references to individual characters, the non-narrative books elicited more instances of labels. Surprisingly, the two types of books encouraged similar amounts of generic talk about kinds of animals and talk about natural facts. Based on these findings, we leave the reader with one final piece of generic information: picture book stories aren’t just for fun; they’re for learning, too.

I love a study that proves the power of reading any sort of book to children.  Beautiful!

child-315049_1280Children’s book author Jonathan Emmett says that “boys are being deterred from reading because the ‘gatekeepers’ to children’s literature are mostly women.”  The gatekeepers are editors, publishers, librarians, judges and reviewers of children’s books. 

According to an article in The Times of London that is summarized on a more accessible page at Publishing Perspectives, he believes that there isn’t enough boy-friendly elements in children’s books.  I’m honestly not sure what books he’s been looking at because he then goes on to name some pretty big themes in children’s titles:  “battling pirate ships” and “technical details about spaceships.” 

He does have some support from a couple of female authors who incongruously to the very claim of the author write very boy-friendly titles.  And he has done his research.  Out of 400 reviews in five British newspapers, less than 20% of the picture book reviews were written by men and less than a third of the fiction reviews.  That compares to 47% of the picture books being written by men and 41% of the children’s books.

Now wait.  So the claim is that the powerful cadre of women who control publishing, like LIBRARIANS as an example, are using the reviews that they write to weed out the boy friendly titles?  Or is the claim that the female publishers are controlling the writing of the male authors and making sure that they are not filled with swords, battles, dragons, pirates, etc. 

As a children’s librarian, I worked hard to get titles children love into the right hands.  If a boy or girl, because this is even more of that gender-focus that doesn’t help anything in our culture, comes in and asks for pirate books, I merrily get them those books.  Books into hands.  That’s all I want to manage. 

But perhaps the most disgusting part of logical extension of the author’s claim is that we as women are out to emasculate male children by withholding books they would prefer to read.  Producing books that reflect a softened, feminized version of our world, no battling pirates, no technical information, no baddies smoking, few if any baddies at all.  What misogynistic crap!

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1) The Real Boy Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War

Women are writing some of the most captivating and violent books for children and teens. 

Women are the ones in the low-paying jobs of teacher and librarian who get books into the hands of children. 

Women are the ones who take the time to listen to the small voices of children and pick those marvelous Captain Underpants books off the shelves for them among many others.

Women are worried about the gender gap in reading and are having conversations about how best to collect books in our libraries that boys (and non-reading girls) will enjoy.

Women, professionally and as moms and grandmothers, are powerful, I agree with Mr. Emmett about that.  It is our power that will help solve this issue, not perpetuate it.

Early Reading Proficiency Report

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has just released the results of their update to their study of third grade reading scores.  The new data shows that 80% of low-income fourth graders are not proficient in reading as compared to 49% in higher income students.  Due to this, there is an expected shortfall in the United States by 2020 of 1.5 million workers with college degrees with a surplus of 6 million people without a high school diploma who will be unemployed.

These disparities in income are also echoed in racial groups.  Black students are at 83% below proficient reading levels.  Hispanic students are at 81%.  That is compared to 55% for white students and 49% for Asian. 

The study goes on to show state by state what the percentage point different is in reading proficiency rate. 

The good news is that reading proficiency is improving the US.  The bad news is that the large gaps remain in specific demographics.  The report ends by urging a focus on making sure that children are healthy and ready to learn, exposed to as much language as possible in their early years, and encouraging parents and school to work together to make sure their children are learning.

Smart PJs – A Dumb Idea

This makes me want to scream, but I work in a library so I’m holding it in and only screaming here.  See if you have the same reaction:

For me it’s the idea of devices reading bedtime stories to children.  That’s what we have loving adults in our lives for.  Bedtime is a moment of connection, a way to show love and caring and compassion.  Sharing books that display our appreciation for nature, diversity, and life.

Soapbox dismounted.


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