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Getting Children to Read

Carla Morris Librarian Booktalk

Carla MorrisInterview with Carla Morris, current Chair of ALA’s 2013 Theodore Geisel Committee, former Caldecott Committee member (2004), librarian for the past 32 years at the Provo City Library and its current Children's Service Manager, and  children's author of “The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians” (Peachtree Publishers  2007). Carla has a special interest in Emergent Literacy and teaching parents how to get their children ready to learn to read.

What advice do you have for parents who want their children to read more?
Carla: Read yourself! Let your children see you read. Let your children see you cry over a book or laugh. Talk about what you are reading to your kids.  Have books in your home.  Have big shelves of physical, real, tangible books.  Your children should own copies of their favorite books.  Give them books for Christmas, their birthdays with something personally written to them inside the cover.  Those books will outlast their toys.

You should have copies of your favorite books so your children can see what you value. Children should always have bookshelves with books, and reading lamps in their bedrooms.  I know everyone is moving towards e-books, and that’s good too.  So call me old fashioned, but BOOKS need to be in your home!

What do you see as the main challenges that parents, librarians, and/or educators face in getting young people to read and what are some of the best ways to overcome those challenges?
Carla: It’s a matter of setting priorities and balance. Kids who spend a lot of “screen time” are actually reading...just in a different way than what we think of as reading. However, if they are spending a lot of time on social media, are they learning new vocabulary? Learning about characters, settings, problem solving that they would learn from reading a book?

Acquiring movies at our fingertips allows us to spend hours viewing movies that may or may not be mind expanding.  We don’t fully know the outcomes of so much screen time. Turning everything off and reading a book (actual or on a notebook)  just a few minutes a day should be a part of our daily routine...working on the intellect!

What do you say to teens or young readers to encourage them to read?
Carla: I say have you heard about???????, then give them a short synopsis of something new, point them in that direction and let them browse.  Be there for them when they have questions...give them the tools and let them explore.

What are some of the more popular books you see kids reading today?
Carla: Children love the series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Rick Riordan books, Magic Treehouse, Alchemist, Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious, Olivia, Dora the Explorer, Horowitz's Alex RiderRanger’s Apprentice, Captain Underpants, books on super heroes, and Star Wars. Brandon Mull books are popular here.  Kids still ask for GoosebumpsAnimorphs are being reissued. Kids will love those.

What are some of the more recent books you recommend to young readers and why?
Carla: This is a broad and complicated question. Children are varied!  Our motto at the Provo Library is "Get the right book into their hands at the right time of their life." To help with that, we have a whole wall filled with brochures of more than 50 Book Lists: Adventure, Books for Girls, Books for Boys, Fantasy, Fairies Historical Fiction, Mermaids, Horses, Trucks and Trains and Things that Go, Wordless Picture Books, and more. You can also find those book lists on our website at www.provolibrary.com/booklists

What’s your favorite book to recommend to teens or young readers and why?
Carla: I love children’s non-fiction.  Usually heavy on graphics and short, concise text. You can always find something great to recommend to a child who will give you even a little hint of what they are interested in. Children are all about fantasy right now, but there is a world of absolutely beautiful non-fiction books!  Graphic novels are branching into non-fiction, especially history. The reluctant reader can learn about history through comics!

I love magazines and always have.  The brevity, slick pages-- very visual.  Children should be introduced to them. Check them out and take them home.  A recent trend that I love is the Picture Biographies--a little slice of life (in picturebook format of historical figures), such as “Me Jane” by Patrick McDonnell.

What are some your favorites that you recommend and that readers seem to enjoy? 
Carla: I have always loved Cynthia Rylant. She has written a variety of Fiction, Easy Readers and picture books.  She is a master at developing characters and scenes.  I love the feeling that comes from reading her writing.  I frequently recommend Kate Di Camillo, Ian Lawrence, Cornelia Funke, Gary Schmidt:  all beautiful writers.  I love the I Spy Books and books by Tana Hoban because they encourage adults and children to cuddle up together and point, talk, have discussions about life-- all while having fun with books.I refer patrons to Mo Willems and Kevin Henkes who both seem to remember what it’s like to be a child. Rosemary Wells, Mem Fox are classic.

My all time favorite illustrators would be Barry Moser, Kadir Nelson, David Small, David Catrow, Christopher Bing, and this always surprises people…. Holly Hobbie…I LOVE the Toots and Puddles series. And I can’t forget the classic illustrations of Garth Williams, Ernest Shepard, Robert McCloskey, Barbara Cooney (so dear to my heart). There are hundreds of favorites--these names just pop out of my head. I know that I’m leaving out so many!!!

With the Caldecott Awards coming up and your past experience as a committee member, tell me why you think such awards are important.
Carla: Keeping our standards high!

Can you share any experiences you had on the committee that might be of interest to other librarians or book lovers?
Carla: Mostly the fun of Caldecott is receiving close to 800 free picture books and carefully analyzing them and having discussions about them with other committee members. The networking and friendships formed are amazing.

Do you have any predictions for this year’s award winners?
Carla: I’m sure Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green will be a winner.  However, my personal favorite is “Me…Jane” by Patrick McDonnell.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?
Carla: Being a librarian has greatly expanded my life and has made me and my children better people.  When you work in a library you learn something new every day.  You are exposed to the richness of ideas, illustrations, books, multimedia which rubs off on you and makes you so much more interesting than if you were not exposed to such a wealth of thinking!!!

I love the books I love the kids. I love the people I work with.  I have a great library director Gene Nelson who supports the Children’s Department.  My staff are all experts in customer service and.great storytellers who put their whole being into doing our story times. I love and appreciate the parents who take the time (and gas) to find their kids shoes and books and bring  them to the library regularly. They are “the heroes” and their children and the world they will ultimately live in  will be the benefactors.

The Boy Who Was Raised By LibrariansAny last words?
Carla: The public library has always been an important part of American life.  The world of writing, publishing, e-books is currently in a state of flux. I wrote my picture book “The Boy Who Was Raised By Librarians” to bring attention to the contribution of libraries in our communities and to show the relationship between librarians who work together, as well as the relationship formed between librarians and patrons.  Many times the public library is referred to as the “living room of the community. I frequently tell library staff as well as our patrons, ”I hope you will always feel comfortable at our library, and you are always welcome home here.”

To learn more about Carla and her work as a children's author, visit her web site at www.carladeemorris.com.

Located in Provo, Utah at the historic Academy Square, the Provo Library is known for age appropriate programming.  It offers 24 age specificprograms every week geared towards children 0 – 12 years of age.  It's also know for 2 signature annual events:  "Fairy Tea Party" and "Big Guy Little Guy parties." More information on the Provo Library can be found at www.provolibrary.com.

(This librarian booktalk was originally posted on January 5, 2012

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