The Musings of an American Bookseller

Just the other day I found myself walking through a popular, corporate bookstore. As a new independent bookstore owner in Severna Park, it’s surreal to think that just over 6 months ago, I was just Melody Wukitch, M.S.Ed. Teacher. Reading Specialist. Woman. Wife. Mom. Now, my email signature has been saddled with titles like Owner, Bookseller, President, Bookbuyer, Event Planner, and the like. I have sashayed my way into the world of bookselling like someone gets onto a tilt-a-whirl for the first time: excited, nervous, and completely unaware of the misery to come. Business ownership has its challenges; but, bookstore ownership is its own monster. I’ve decided to share some of the observations, thoughts, and challenges that I’m facing as a bookseller. Take what I say with a grain of salt because ultimately: I know nothing. But, just maybe, in this mess that is my mental meanderings, something useful will come of this. Here we go. Entry numero uno. 

Selling Ideas Disguised as Books

The book business is a unique industry. Similar to other sales positions, I have to sell a product to stay in business. Most assume I sell books, but what I’m truly selling are thoughts, ideas, and answers. Of course, customers don’t walk in and say, “Hey! Please persuade me to buy some ideas that affirm or question my position in your store!” Rather, they’ll open with something like, “Do you have any recommendations?” Or, “I don’t really like to read and my kid is only reading graphic novels.” Or, “I liked the book such-and-such and the author so-and-so.” I find that I do recommend books that I love to readers, as well as recommending books that I think they will love. Many times, these are books that I have not read. It’s assumed that I am very well-read but this assumption is VERY wrong. While I certainly read quite a bit, I have by no means read every book and it’s impossible to do so. There are between 600k-1 million books released in the US every year!  A friend recently identified me as “The Book Maven” and I think I like it. A connoisseur of the written word. A steward of books. If it were selling wine, I’d be a sommelier. There’s a level of intuition involved in pulling books from shelves and placing them in the hands of could-be readers. I ask questions and I listen. I believe that every person who wants to read more is just one book away from being a daily reader. 

Books Smell Good

I rarely meet anyone who does not verbalize in some form or another that they love book stores. Even non-readers express their delight at the kitschy non-book things found on my shelves. “There’s just something about the smell of a new book,” they say. And, they’re right. Books transport, inspire, educate. Great ones make us laugh out loud, weep real tears, ignite anger, and some even make us affirm or change our thinking. Reading a book requires great stamina and reflection. To finish a book for many can feel like completing a marathon and to do it is a feat that I want for every book buyer in my store. The first book I read from cover to cover was The Diary of a Young Girl, also commonly referred to as The Diary of Anne Frank. I was in Mrs. Walker’s 8th grade Language Arts class and as embarrassing as it is to admit, I was NOT a reader. I struggled to read for a multitude of reasons and while I had read some of the poems in Where the Sidewalk Ends, a Judy Blume book (maybe) and a few choose your own adventure books in elementary school, I wasn’t a reader. I was a faker. But, Mrs. Walker engaged me in a new way. She held me accountable to read and moved me with a story that was not her own. She inspired me to be inspired by someone else’s story and I cannot thank her enough. Thanks, Mrs. Walker, wherever you are. I’d be a liar if I said that when I finished that book that I was a reader, but alas, I wasn’t. There’s more to my growth as a reader than that one book but we’ll get to that next time. So, what makes someone a reader? The motivator for each of us is different. Some people read because they want to socialize with friends at a book club. Some are seeking answers to a problem in their current day-to-day life. Many are looking for an escape from the mundane. Some want to better themselves. We want to feel connected. We want to be isolated. We want to understand. We want to imagine something different or we want to find what is the same. Why we read and what we read is very personal and my plan in this series is to share my very personal experience with you. My experience as a reader is not just my own. As a teacher and bookseller, I am chock full of reader experience and I hope to share it all. I hope to inspire a community of readers and could-be-readers one book at a time. Why? Because it’s not only part of my store’s mission but because it’s mine. (And, Mrs. Walker’s). Seriously. I mean it. 

Until next time. 

The Loss of Our Friend, Beverly Cleary

My friend, Beverly Cleary, died yesterday at the very seasoned age of 104. What an amazing and remarkable life she had lived. Some of you may be saying, “Wow! Melody knows Beverly Cleary?!” And, while I did not know her personally, I do indeed feel like I knew her.

A childhood full of stories

One of the first novels I ever read cover-to-cover was Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Ramona’s adventures, sibling troubles and honest life-lessons, wrapped up in a humorous narrative engaged me in the same way that Lisa Frank notebooks and the New Kids On The Block did when I was a kid. It’s funny because when I think of Beverly Cleary and other beloved children’s authors like Judy Blume, Louis Sachar, and Roald Dahl, I feel strangely possessive and proud. I feel like these books…these authors, belong to ME and the other kids who grew up in the 80’s, during a time of cassette tapes and cigarette lighters in cars. But, the authors above began writing long before I was lucky enough to read them. Cleary published her first novel in 1950. Many children before me loved Henry Huggins, his friend Beezus, and welcomed Ramona, the pesky little sister in 1955. Cleary created timeless characters that appealed to children long before I got to know them and will continue to delight young readers for years to come.

“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelves, write it.”

Beverly Cleary

Words endure

The beauty of writing is that words endure. We mourn the loss of an author in many ways. We pay tribute by buying their novels, tweeting, reading and writing articles of remembrance and sometimes celebrating their life if schools. As a librarian turned author, I believe that Beverly Cleary would love to be honored by reading. As a reading specialist, I spend much of my time encouraging and engaging people of all ages to read. As Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” But, a lesson I take from the loss of Cleary is that she will endure because she was a writer.

We should write. Just as we should read every day, we should write every single day. Whether you enjoy writing stories or poetry, making lists, or simply recording your day-to-day living through journaling, we should write every day. Our words will live on longer than our bodies.

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.

Allen Ginsberg

Find your voice—begin writing today!

In memory of our friend, Beverly Cleary. May you live forever in our hearts and remind us that our voices are timeless when we take the time to write.

Happy Reading…and Writing!

Melody

It’s Read Across America Week!

Every year, the NEA (National Education Association) with the help of teachers, parents, and students publish a list of recommended books to read. Each month, the NEA features three books—for young, middle grade and young adult readers—that explore a topic related to diversity and inclusion. These books are amazing. Read across America week is a great time to update our bookshelves and refresh our habit of reading.

Reading is critical. There’s no way around this one. The Literacy Project (a non-profit literacy organization) has found that 45 million Americans are functionally illiterate and cannot read above a 5th grade level. They’ve also found that only 35% of American children read at a proficient level in the fourth grade. The Literacy Project has studied behavior in children and found that 85% of juvenile offenders have struggles when reading and 3 out of 5 people in prisons in America struggle to read.

So what can we do?

Reading and being read aloud to has an impact that extends beyond just hearing stories. Even teens love to be read to. Make daily reading a habit together. Why wait?

Read across America Week and Dr. Seuss’s Birthday

To honor Dr. Seuss, we celebrate his birthday on March 2nd and use it as a reminder to read and read to our children everyday. To help support you and make selecting books easier, I have created a list of the recommended books from the NEA on my bookshop site. All books purchased through the bookshop site will provide a commssion to the bookstore and our programs to aide in the literacy development of our community!

two kids reading a fairy tale book

My child doesn’t like to read…HELP!

I would be a very rich woman if I received a nickel from every parent that has said this! The good news is that you are not alone. The bad news is that you are not alone. One of the biggest challenges facing parents and teachers is engaging readers. There are three types of readers: those who love reading, those that hate it, and the rest who will do it, but only if they have to. In my experience, I’ve found that while there are a few kiddos who not only love reading, but choose it over all other leisure activities, the majority of kids fall in the latter group. Researchers have found that reading engagement has consistently dwindled since the dawn of technology. And no, not just since the internet. While the digital age has certainly had an effect on the reading habits of children and adults, researchers have noticed a downward trend for the last 80+ years. Radio, television and other types of interactive hobbies have taken the place of reading for pleasure.

Researchers have found that children and teens who read regulary, outside of school, are more successful in school. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found that while the average 17 year old does in deed read more than the average 9 year old, only 51% of high school graduates are prepared for college level reading. Reading habits continue to decline into adulthood, even in college graduates. Experts are clear–we must encourage young children to build the habit of reading.

Tips to engage your reader

  • Partner with your child/teen to create a space for reading. This can be a special nook, under table fort, cozy pillows in a corner or closet floor with twinkle lights.
  • Allow choice. Kids who choose what they’d like to read are more likely to read for pleasure. It’s okay to set aside literary merit for pure enjoyment.
  • Take a book everywhere you go! The entire family should make a habit to travel with books whether they believe they’ll read or not. You never know when you’ll find yourself waiting for something.
  • READ! A child who sees reading happening on a regular basis will also find value in reading.
  • Visit bookstores or libraries weekly. If you take the time to visit, the value will be implied and internalized.
  • Find a book club. The social aspect of a book club motivates even the most reluctant reader to read.
  • Consider setting goals for reading. There is nothing wrong with using extrinsic rewards until the intrinsic desire comes.

If you are concerned that your developing reader is struggling to read or expressing animosity towards reading, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. The reading specialists at the LitColab have many tricks up their sleeves!

Happy Reading!

Melody

Screentime– Does it affect reading growth?

children lying on sofa and using gadgets

As a reading specialist, I am often asked by parents, “Is it okay that my child is reading digitally? Does it affect their reading ability?” Kindles, e-readers and other devices certainly engage young readers and adults alike and so it is a fair concern. Virtual learning has brought about even more opportunities for children to read digitally. What should we do? Or, do we even need to worry?

To put it simply, we just don’t know. What we do know is that asking if it is okay to read digitally or not is not the question we should be asking. Instead, we should ask, what do readers gain and lose from reading digitally or on paper?

Pros and Cons of Reading on Paper

Benefits

  • Reading stamina is improved.
  • Spatial memory for the location of a passage or a chart on a physical paper page can help a student recall information.
  • Greater effort is requred and therefore comprehension is improved.
  • Simple to mark-up a text for critical study
  • Easy to identify high quality reading materials due to award labels and reliable publishers.
  • Book covers can be highly engaging.
  • Areas of the brain that support critical thinking are activated while reading on paper.
  • Visually understanding where you are in a text assists in critical thinking about a text.

Possible downfalls

  • Books are more costly.
  • Can be less engaging to a techno savvy audience.
  • Access to new reading materials can be slow.
  • Not as visually engaging (With exception of graphic novels or illustrated texts).

Pros and Cons of Reading Digitally

Benefits

  • Access to reading material is fast.
  • E-books are many times less expensive or free.
  • Highly engaging to a young, techno sasvy audience.
  • Reading digitally does not waste paper.
  • Convenient- reading digitally can take place anywhere on a single device.
  • Can be read in the dark.
  • Attitude towards e-readers are high among young readers.
  • E-reading specifically on an e-reader uses ambient light that can be easy on the eyes.
  • Scrolling can be beneficial when reading web based comics, entertainment articles and the news.

Downfalls

  • Researchers found that we often skim when reading digitally ultimately affecting comprehension.
  • Quality of reading materials is not always consistent or easily identifiable.
  • The implicit feel of where you are in a book is missing which can impact self-monitoring and critical thinking.
  • Navigating a screen impairs comprehension.
  • Utilizing screen editors for marking the text can be too complex or time consuming to use.
  • Reading digitally is often disrupted by digital distractions. e.g. apps, email, web browsing.
  • Screen reading can be more physically and mentally taxing.
  • E-reading on devices like computers, ipads and smartphones, shine light into readers’ faces and cause eye strain.

What does this all mean?

So what does this mean for us? For parents of young readers? There are clearly benefits to both reading on paper and digitally. Many children born after 2010 have been exposed to devices everyday and may find reading digitally to be engaging. Having access to new reading materials quickly is also a plus to e-readers and digital texts. Research does show that comprehension is improved when reading on paper but it is because we read much slower when reading on paper. Reading faster digitally utilizes a different skill of skimming which can benefit readers in a hurry who are attempting to simply gain an overall understanding of a topic. I believe the answer is a balanced approach; we should read both! Reading digitally will not go away. Rather than choosing one over the other, we should choose what we read and in what format carefully. By reading both digitally and on paper everyday, we are activating different areas of our brains consistently and growing in skills specific to each.

What does this mean to our virtual learners?

We have to face it. We are living in a pandemic and we don’t know what will come of this for our children and their education. But, what we do know is that they are learning in a way that we did not. Our children are becoming more technologically savvy than we ever could have imagined. We do know that reading digitally activates different areas of their brains and allows them access to so many different reading materials almost instantly. But, we also know that areas of critical thinking and long term memory are specifically activated when reading on paper. Overall, we know that children who read regularly do better in school. We know that children who choose reading as a leisure activity have a larger vocabulary than children who do not read for pleasure. Reading is the goal. As parents, we should give our children access to both digital and paper based books and other reading materials. If they’re spending their days online, reading in school, encourage them to read a paper based book for at least 20 minutes a night and then talk about it.

All reading is good reading and they should be reading it ALL!

Happy Reading!

Melody 🙂

References

Barshay, J. (2020, March 30). Evidence increases for reading on paper instead of screens. Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://hechingerreport.org/evidence-increases-for-reading-on-paper-instead-of-screens/

Jabr, F. (2013, April 11). The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens. Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

Could it be Dyslexia?

Could it be dyslexia?

Jan 16, 2021

Many parents find themselves at a standstill when they see their child struggling to read. They may ask themselves: “Is my child not trying?”, “Are they distracted?” or “Could it be dyslexia?” Dyslexia is the most familiar of the langauge based learning differences and is often called a processing disorder or processing-language disability. Struggling to understand why your child is struggling can be incredibly frustrating for both the parent and child. The local public schools very rarely will begin testing until the child reaches the 2nd or 3rd grade as many students do indeed bloom at their own pace. However, there are specialists such as private reading specialists and educational psychologists are are able to perform assessments in order to better understand the struggle. Many students with dyslexia are able to squeeze by and their processing disorder goes unnoticed for many years. There are some warning signs of dyslexia and if your child has 3 or more, you may want to seek additional information.

Pre-School

  • Delayed speech
  • Mixing up the sounds and syllables in long words
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Constant confusion of left versus right
  • Late establishing a dominant hand
  • Difficulty learning to tie shoes
  • Trouble memorizing their address, phone number, or the alphabet
  • Can’t create words that rhyme
  • A close relative with dyslexia

Elementary School

  • Dysgraphia (slow, non-automatic handwriting)
  • Letter or number reversals continuing past the end of first grade
  • Slow, choppy, inaccurate reading:
    • Guesses
    • Skips or misreads prepositions (at, to, of)
    • Ignores suffixes
    • Can’t sound out unknown words
  • Terrible spelling
  • Often can’t remember sight words (they, were, does) or homonyms (their, they’re, and there)
  • Difficulty telling time with a clock with hands
  • Trouble with math
  • When speaking, difficulty finding the correct word
  • Common sayings come out slightly twisted

High school/Adulthood

  • Limited vocabulary
  • Extremely poor written expression
    • Large discrepancy between verbal skills and written compositions
  • Unable to master a foreign language
  • Difficulty reading printed music
  • Poor grades in many classes

What is Dyslexia?

Simply stated, Dyslexia is an inherited condition that makes it difficult to learn to read and write.

The definition the International Dyslexia Association gives is:

“Dyslexia is a neurologically-based, often familial, disorder which interferes with the acquisition and processing of language. Varying in degrees of severity, it is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including phonological processing, in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and sometimes in arithmetic.
Dyslexia is not the result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment, inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities, or other limiting conditions, but may occur together with these conditions.
Although dyslexia is lifelong, individuals with dyslexia frequently respond successfully to timely and appropriate intervention.”

The wiring of the brain is different…it is NOT broken. Since dyslexia is a processing disorder, specialized instruction can assist in rewiring the brain. In this video from Understood.org, hear from leading dyslexia expert, Guinevere Eden, on what parts of the brain are used for reading. See how the brain function of a child with dyslexia can actually change when they learn how to read fluently.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to discuss your concerns. Our advice and advocacy is always free!