Young guides point the way to good books

Selection: Members of National Geographic World's junior advisory board share their secrets on finding fun reading material.

September 12, 1999|By Rasmi Simhan | Rasmi Simhan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For some kids, nonfiction means dry, hard, schoolhouse facts.

Jonathan Broscious knows better. The in-line skater found a book in the local library to refresh his memory on skills he knew and teach him new turns. After learning to traverse, or skate downhill, he was ready to roll down his entire street.

Jonathan, 13, of Monrovia in Frederick County is one of four Maryland students whose interest in reading to find out about their world has brought an unusual honor, appointment this year to the Junior Member Advisory Board of National Geographic World magazine.

The other Marylanders -- among 160 on the volunteer board from the United States and other countries -- are Lauren Ramsey, 11, of Ellicott City; Amy Bond, 11, of Annapolis; and Natalie Parvis, 13, of Waldorf.

Members are chosen through an essay contest and serve for a year. Their duties involve giving opinions, by filling out questionnaires, on articles that have appeared in the magazine, the junior publication of National Geographic, and on ideas for future issues.

"Reading makes your mind more creative," said Lauren, a sixth-grader at Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville, Howard County.

"Most kids I know who don't like reading just choose the wrong books," Lauren said. "They try and read this big fat book and then quit reading it."

"Try a fast-paced one to hook your interest," said Jonathan, who is home-schooled. "Don't try to run before you walk."

Lauren checks out her friends' favorites and Newbery Award-winning books.

Finding an entertaining read can be as easy as checking out the cover and summary, said Natalie, who noted that eye-catching covers helped attract her to R. L. Stine's "Fear Street" books, which she enjoys for their "edge-of-your-seat thrill."

That doesn't mean that challenging books don't bring their own rewards. Natalie, a freshman at Charles County's Thomas Stone High School, slogged through the descriptive passages of her summer reading book, "The Yearling." But when she finished the story of a boy and his pet deer, it joined her list of favorite books, she said.

An exciting narrative can make fiction more compelling, but finding interesting nonfiction can present a greater challenge.

For starters, try magazines. They often offer a quick pace and subjects that cater to their audiences.

"They have to make the writing exciting for kids to like it," said Lauren.

For example, National Geographic World takes a personal look at such historic figures as Thomas Edison. Other articles give kids their 15 minutes of fame for accomplishments such as winning 200 blue ribbons for a horse, or teaching their dogs to catch flying discs.

Interest can get personal when the subject is something children can appreciate, such as the invention of the chocolate-chip cookie.

And you never know when a fact will come in handy.

"Like if I'd read about George Washington and then we studied him in class," Natalie said, "I'd already know something. It would help me."

Finding time to read can be a challenge for some young people, but setting a pattern -- whether it's a time of day, a special place, or with a companion -- can help establish a reading ritual.

Natalie and Jonathan say they read every night before bed.

Even though she was busy playing tennis and helping plan the family camping trip, Lauren managed to read about two hours every day this summer.

Amy, who reads every night, said she sometimes reads on the school bus.

Most began reading early in life, and see reading as a group effort.

Jonathan and his brothers, for example, gather on the couch each night to listen to their father read aloud. Their selections? Cliffhangers.

"The end of one chapter makes you want to read the next one," Jonathan said. "If we beg enough, he'll read another page, and when he's excited, he reads three or four more."

For Lauren, listening to her mother's "live" performances in reading has helped her act in student plays.

The board members also see their reading and writing skills improve. Jonathan said he has written six short stories about a family like his own. His appreciation for a fast pace and dialogue has taught him to shun "to be" verbs such as "is," "has" and "were."

"If you write with those, sometimes the stories get boring," Jonathan said. "It's better if the character does something. Instead of saying, `Fred was going to go to work,' use details like, `Fred thumped his foot as he waited for the coffee machine to beep.' "

Lauren said she was the only girl in the top reading group of her second-grade class. "Whenever we read aloud," she said, "I got to read all of the girl parts."

Jonathan keeps a record of books he has read, close to 300 of them since 1995. Each entry includes the date, title and author, the type of book, where he got it and his rating, from poor to excellent. Sometimes he recommends books to his brothers or sees a book he'd like to read again.

"It's fun to go back and say, `Yeah, I remember that book,' " he said.

Reading doesn't mean that students neglect other media.

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