Selling kids on books: a national crisis?

September 26, 1990|By Randi Henderson

When asked what teen-agers are reading these days, the manager of the recently opened Gordon's Children's Bookstore at the Rotunda comes back with a quick -- and glum -- response.

"Adolescents really don't read a whole lot," Kathy Wielech said. "We sell lots of books for small children, but I'm very discouraged by the reading patterns I've seen from adolescents. They have too many other things they'd rather do: play video games, watch cable TV. They just want to sit there and vegetate and not do anything to stimulate their minds."

JoAnn Fruchtman, owner of the Children's Bookstore in Roland Park, generally agrees. "Middle school is a hard time for all kids and reading is not what's on their minds most of the time," she said. "But there are some kids who will always love to read and there are plenty of wonderful books for them."

The children's book market, according to Publisher's Weekly, was the boom market in publishing in the '80s, with sales doubling between 1980 and 1985 and expected to double again between 1985 and 1990.

But these numbers include books for toddlers through young adults. Industry insiders warn that as the decade continues, the population will include less younger children -- who like to read -- and more teen-agers, who are less interested in books.

"In luring these new teen-agers to books, in competition with other and perhaps flashier forms of entertainment, book publishers clearly have their work cut out for them," a Publisher's Weekly analyst concluded.

One of the best ways to get adolescents to read is to set an example for them, many educators agree. "If their parents read, the kids are more apt to read," said Park School librarian and children's literature specialist Judith Rosenfeld.

Boys are as likely to be readers as girls, say many school librarians, although they are likely to differ in what they read. Boys often choose sports-oriented books and mysteries, while many girls select from popular series (see accompanying article) and romance books.

Magazines are popular with both boys and girls, said Michele Tyrrell, librarian at Arundel Junior High School in Odenton, listing Hot Rod, Cycle, Teen, Seventeen, Skateboarding and Sports Illustrated as perennial favorites.

Carolyn Samuels, librarian at Fallstaff Middle School in Baltimore, is more positive than many educators about series and books that may not be highly regarded academically.

"We have a real crisis in this country in that kids just aren't reading," she said. "We have to provide books no matter what. Comic books or classics -- anything that will motivate them to read. Because the more children read, the better readers they become."

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