The Advocate’s Handbook
No matter what your relationship is to young people in your life, you can make a difference in their lives by advocating for them. To find tips that best meet need your needs based on your role, click on a title or scroll down.
If you are a parent or family member
When should you begin reading out loud to the children in your life? The same day you begin speaking to them. And don’t stop. Keep on reading aloud to your children long after they have become independent readers. And read books which are on a higher reading level than the books they are reading to themselves; it will increase their vocabulary and improve their grammar, boost their critical thinking and spark their creativity. But most important of all, reading aloud will show that reading can be anything you want it to be: exciting, relaxing, absorbing, inspiring, soothing, thrilling, or just plain fun.
Take the young people in your life to the public library in your neighborhood. Introduce yourself and your child to the librarians, so that the librarians are not strangers. You wouldn’t take your child to a movie without first finding out if the movie is appropriate and of interest to your child. You ask other people about movies. You read reviews and listen to television reviews. Make the same effort with books and magazines. Your librarian can make recommendations and direct you to resources that will provide you with the information you need to get interesting, exciting books to your children to keep them reading.
You can’t expect a teenager to wake up one morning and start reading the editorial page in the newspaper. To encourage young people to read newspapers and periodicals, begin when they are preschoolers. Read aloud from the colorful Sunday comics to your four-year-old and have fun coloring the daily comics – and reading the words – the rest of the week. Entice your middle-grade children into reading general news magazines and newspapers by reading aloud to them from the sports and living sections, where they’ll find articles about their favorite heroes and celebrities. Suggest they begin scrapbooks collecting articles and photographs about their favorite hobbies and personalities. Discuss current events at the dinner table and refer to the magazines and newspapers you’ve read.
Most important of all, you should read yourself. Read magazines. Read newspapers. Read books. Read poetry. Read the backs of cereal boxes. Let your young children and teenagers see you lost in a book. Tell them, “I’ll be with you in a minute; I just have to finish this chapter.” Ask your teenagers if they have a good book to recommend to you. Teenagers are usually more than happy to give advice, and lots of it, to adults. Ask them to accompany you to the library or book store to help you find something to read, and listen to their thoughts about their favorite magazines and books over coffee at the local coffee shop. Fathers: read everything, anywhere, but read in front of your sons. They need to know that reading is an acceptable male pastime, and that books will get them further in life than a basketball. And they need you to show them. You can’t expect your child to read and enjoy reading, if you don’t read yourself.
If you represent a youth or sports organization
You’re in the unique position of being able to connect reading to other popular activities that young people are already involved in. Encourage the adults in your organization to use their power as role models to influence young people to read. Adult volunteers have a tremendous influence on young people, especially young people who don’t have positive adult role models in their own homes. The simple act of a coach taking a team to the library will mean more to young people than any lecture on the benefits of reading. Scout leaders can encourage writing as an enjoyable and creative activity. “Y” counselors can start book discussion groups and let a young person choose the book the group will read. Work with your local librarian and plan a meeting or trip to the neighborhood or main library branch in your community. Give the young people you work with a chance to become givers, and encourage them to start a book drive, become reading partners, or plan a literacy event for younger children.
If you represent a business
You have a vested interest in young people’s literacy. Young people who can read and write can also think critically and creatively. They are problem solvers and will become your skilled adult workers. Literate adults also tend to hold higher paying jobs and have more money to spend as consumers of services and products. Literacy profits everyone.
Embrace active partnerships with literacy efforts and support them financially. When you contribute to young people’s literacy you avoid spending millions of dollars sending adult employees to remedial classes. Through your business, you may be able to provide communication and access to the individuals and groups most in need of intervention and education. Literacy information is often disseminated through libraries and bookstores, where the likelihood of speaking to the “converted” is rather high. Readers and nonreaders alike go to grocery stores, fast food outlets, malls, sporting events, etc. By using the power of your market connections, you can help literacy groups reach the young people and adults most in need of support and education.
If you represent a newspaper or magazine
Many children, teens, and adults who are not reading books do read, and are influenced by, magazines and newspapers. Use your leadership position to promote reading, the printed word, and books. Teen and sports publications are already considered hip and acceptable. Reading will become just as hip by association if you actively promote it. Use interviews and articles to show young people and adults the power of writing for both personal fulfillment and career opportunities. Instead of interviewing a sports celebrity or movie actor, feature an interview with a novelist, poet, sportswriter, screen writer, or journalist. Place fashion shoots in bookstores and libraries and use books and magazines as props. In newspapers, get the sporadic children’s book reviews out of the book review section and into the living arts section, where a broader audience will find them. Give parents and family members sound practical suggestions to support reading at home. Stress male role model involvement in reading. Actively support reading as being as enjoyable, relaxing, and even as escapist as television and the movies. Publish poems and short fiction, and consider serializing novels. Newspapers and magazines were once the showcases of contemporary fiction. Why not launch a new exploration of fiction and story?
If you represent the information media or entertainment industry
What if individuals in the information media and entertainment industries decided to use their powerful positions to get behind kids, reading, and books? What if characters on popular sitcoms discussed books instead of movies and were seen with books in their hands? What if public information spots moved beyond telling parents to read to their children and actually showed them how to share books with children of different ages? What if, amidst the trailers preceding videos and movies, an actor from the feature movie recommended the book that inspired the movie or a book related to the topic of the movie? What if news programs treated issues related to young people, reading, and education with the same consistent coverage they give other national issues? What if cartoon characters recommended their favorite books and stories every week? What if the information and entertainment industries decided to support young people and reading? These issues would become a serious item on our national agenda.
If you are a librarian
Build on your outreach to families, teachers, and your community. Plan a family open house for your library with the local schools. Since many school systems no longer employ certified librarians, work to build relationships with your school system’s curriculum director and reading specialists to share knowledge and plan programming.
Take advantage of hospital prenatal programs and use them to reach expectant parents who are eager to develop good parenting skills. Let them know that developing their children’s minds is as important as nourishing their bodies. Include parents in storytelling sessions; recommend additional books they can read at home, and teach them how to read aloud to their children. Many parents were not read to as children, and truly do not know how to begin or what to read. Let parents who cannot read themselves know that they, too, can participate in book experiences by using picture books as a catalyst for discussion with their child.
If you are a teacher
Read aloud in class often and to students of every age; don’t restrict it to language skills and literature classes. Many publications provide wonderful curriculum support for every discipline.
Increase your knowledge of children’s literature. It is not only vitally important to get our children reading, it is essential that we keep them reading. The only way to do that is to get wonderful, exciting, pertinent reading material into their hands. Build contacts between your school and your public librarian, and become familiar with resources that can increase your knowledge and understanding of the wide variety of books and magazines available for young people. Begin a faculty reading group in your school, where you read both adult and children’s books and share your experiences.
Start a volunteer partner program in your school with senior citizens and/or older students. Start a book drive so every room in your school will have its own library. Have your students share the books they love with their classmates. Have your students share the books they hate with their classmates. As they discuss the reasons for their choices, they will begin to learn critical and discriminatory thinking.
Discover a sense of joy and pleasure with student reading. Whenever possible, have students first read a book for pleasure, in its entirety, then begin to study and analyze the content and technique.
Become a reading role model. Show your enthusiasm for reading and the printed word. An adult’s obvious interest and enthusiasm can be very intriguing to a child. Children often want to be more like adults; if reading is exciting to adults, it must be a great thing to do.
If you are a teacher educator
Work to include the study of young people’s literature as a mandatory requirement for teacher certification, in both the curriculum of your own institution and your state requirements. Knowledge of children’s literature is not mandatory for teacher certification in forty-eight states.
Many college students don’t read at all outside of classroom assignments. They don’t read books. They don’t read newspapers. They don’t go to the library unless they have an assignment. Let your education students know that it not enough that they learn the skills to teach children to read; they must also be readers themselves. Young people have a radar-like ability to detect an adult who is delivering an empty message that he or she obviously doesn’t follow. If teachers expect their students to become readers, they must set a convincing example themselves.
Emphasize that reading and writing go hand in hand. Students won’t become writers if they’re not readers. Writing can give a new level of appreciation and understanding to the reading process, and build a lifelong enthusiasm and love for the printed word.
Raise literacy awareness with your secondary education students in every discipline. You cannot study biology, or physics, or computer science, or history, or math if you cannot read. We are at a crisis point on this issue, and we are all responsible for getting and keeping young people reading. There are good, pertinent publications and books in every discipline that teachers can read aloud from in a variety of class situations. Try to encourage reading activities in every class and every subject.
Many libraries offer a wide variety of activities for younger children. Middle school and teen outreach is essential in order to keep our children reading. Work with your library support group to sponsor poetry slams and coffee houses for teens. Sponsor a movie/book night for middle school students. Stress that reading can be enjoyable, entertaining, absorbing, relaxing, funny, scary, exciting, heartwarming not just informative.
If you are a school administrator
Work to build faculty and curriculum connections between the public schools in your district and all the preschool programs that feed into your school system. Contact the children’s librarian at your local public library, and work together with the preschool faculty and parent groups to ensure that young children come into your system with a love of books and enough prior knowledge to begin reading.
If you are a literacy professional
Continue your good work and share your enthusiasm. Shout your message from the highest mountaintop! Explore relationships with other literacy groups and work together so that all that good work is not unnecessarily duplicated. Find avenues beyond the traditional literacy and book community to get your message out “beyond the choir.” Give people practical hands-on information that they can implement in their own lives. Work to help the American public understand that issues related to young people and reading, especially to young people challenged by poverty, familial circumstances, and learning disabilities, are crucial to the growth of our society and economy.
If you are a public official
Work to enact change on a public policy level. Support teacher education initiatives. Support efforts to raise education standards for preschool educators where they are needed. Work to make children’s literature a mandatory requirement for elementary teacher certification. Support public and school library initiatives. Actively support legislation that benefits young people and literacy, especially children most in need.