James Blasingame on why 'kids need to read'
Do you remember your first visit to a public library? The first book you checked out? The first book that made an impression on you?
Fortunate are those whose childhood included books – and reading, says James Blasingame, professor of English at Arizona State University.
“Kids not only learn about the world from reading, but they also learn about themselves, to make meaning of their own lives,” Blasingame said.
That view of reading also explains why he is involved in a charitable organization named Kids Need to Read (KNTR), and why he has just been named KNTR’s chairman of the board.
KNTR was founded in 2008 by moviemaker-turned-author PJ Haarsma and actor Nathan Fillion, after Haarsma discovered, on book-promotion tours to schools, how under-funded their libraries were.
“Children would follow me into the parking lot after my presentation, begging for a book they couldn't afford while teachers and librarians scrambled to find funds for even a single copy,” he said. “I came across many a teacher who took the money out of his or her own pocket just so the kids could have the book in their library.”
Fillion joined the cause when he thought about his own childhood and his access to books.
“Growing up, my parents managed to show me the importance of reading without cramming it down my throat," he said. "A difficult task, I’m sure.
“It breaks my heart to think that there are kids out there, ready to have their imaginations lit on fire, excited and wanting to read, and facing naked shelves in their school or local libraries.”
Haarsma began to write at age 38 after he became bored with his career as the owner of a film production company. His first sci-fi novel for young adults took off, and he added a video game component to begin building his “Softwire” series.
As KNTR grew, it was natural for Blasingame to become involved.
Blasingame, who teaches young-adult literature in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, began a research project with Haarsma two years ago “to see what happens when kids read books and play video games about the books,” Blasingame said.
“PJ’s ‘Softwire’ series has a free online video role-playing game in which the participants become characters from the book and create their own plots as they play. Research on the game showed that 97 percent of the players said they would read the next book in the series just because they had gotten so deeply involved in the story from playing the game.”
Kids need to read, Blasingame stressed, because “literacy can provide a magical bridge between a number of extremes: from ignorance to knowledge, from hopelessness to optimism, from helplessness to self-determination, from poverty to comfort, and from isolation to connection.
“The more books they read, the more they understand the world and their place in it. Reading validates their lives and helps them to understand the possibilities life holds for them.”
And thus, he shares Haarsma’s vision:
“It is our dream to fill library shelves with great books so that no child lacks for amazing stories to inspire their imaginations,” Haarsma said.
For more information about Kids Need to Read, go to http://www.kidsneedtoread.org.
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