Gwenne Culpepper, University Marketing & Public Relations, (319) 273-2761
(Part of the EducatioNet series from the University of Northern Iowa)
These days, no one's sitting outside a bookstore, hoping to snag a copy of the latest Harry Potter book. Just about everyone who wanted one, got one. But Lucille Lettow was excited by all the hoopla generated by the book's release, and says positive effects are still being seen.
Lettow, professor and youth collections librarian at the University of Northern Iowa's Donald O. Rod Library, says the craze probably helped many children develop an interest in reading.
'Children today watch so much TV, and they are becoming passive viewers. It was exciting for me to see so many children interested in books, and interested in reading because of the Harry Potter series. Reading is essential for preparing them to be a student in a school setting. They develop the concentration it takes to listen to others.'
Lettow says that even if your child wasn't one of those who went berserk for Harry Potter, there are lots of ways to encourage children to read and to enjoy it. Start by reading aloud to them, she suggests. It not only helps children develop listening skills, but also allows them to develop their imaginations.
'You don't have to read to them for long periods of time at first, especially with younger children who have shorter attention spans. But eventually what you'll find is the children want you to read to them, and they'll take an interest in the books you choose.'
Parents might try reading a story that is popular and then looking for new and different books based on other interesting subjects within that initial story. Carol Fenner's 'King of Dragons' is a story about a homeless child who learns to fly kites. Parents and their children can read the book, then look for others about dragons, kites or countries where kites are popular. 'You read one story, and web it out to others,' explains Lettow. 'This is an excellent way to help children move from story books to information books.'
Visiting the public library is another way to interest children in books. 'Let them take home their own pile of books and then read aloud to them,' says Lettow. 'It's a good way to show them that there's this whole other world out there, and they can get to that world through books.'
She says it's also a good idea to read aloud books about characters with problems or concerns similar to your child's. 'It's always helpful for children to find out they aren't the only person who's shy, or short or afraid of the dark,' says Lettow.
Above all, she stresses, 'Read to your children, and do it early in their lives. Whatever way you choose to do it is fine. Just do it.'