MPR News  for Headlines, Weather, and Stories Dale Connelly Reporting Home
Dale Connelly Reporting
Dale Connelly Reporting
Return to Dale Connelly Reporting show index

There's more from Dale Connelly at The Morning Show


by Wendy Vapors, 3/3/00

Dc: This is DCR, a news program not to be believed.
The world of publishing has been turned on it's head. A flurry of recent champs on the New York Times bestseller list have been children's books, beating out the adult books that draw so much attention and effort from the publishing houses.
Not long ago we were wringing our hands over what we might do to get children to start reading. Now, they're making pests of themselves.
Why is this happening?
Wendy Vapors reports.

Wendy: Brad Habits is a librarian in the children's room at Tranquil Valley Public Library.

Brad: All right now! Children! I need to know where you are and what you're doing, and I can't be watching everyone all the time. So help me out please and make a little noise!

(sfx: slight sound of children milling, slowly fades)

Wendy: Brad has been trying to mold the behavior of thousands of youngsters who have been mobbing the juvenile area of his library in recent months.

Brad: (interview) I had no idea when I took the job that it was going to be as difficult as this. They're waiting for me when I open up in the morning and they're running around my desk all day long. I have to kick them out when I lock up at night.

Wendy: I would have thought you'd LIKE having children around.
Being the children's room librarian … and all.

Brad: A few, sure. But this … and they're so QUIET! In the old days, when they'd come in here to play tag and crash the computers … at least I knew what they were doing. Now they want books!

Wendy: Isn't that good?

Brad: It sure makes a mess out of my shelves.

Wendy: (vo) Libraries from coast to coast are under attack by children hungry for books about fantastical characters with amazing powers who inhabit magical places. And authors are lining up to give them what they want.

Mary Beth: My name is Mary Beth Elsinore, and I've written a series of books about a young … magical person. Not a wizard. Different.
Her name is Harriet Cotter.

Wendy: "Harriet Cotter" sounds like "Harry Pot…"

Mary Beth: No, no, no. It's a coincidence. Harriet discovers she's a magical person quite by surprise …

Wendy: Harry discovers he's magical too.

Mary Beth: Well, dear, ALL characters discover something about themselves, otherwise why have a book at all?

Wendy: Good point.

Mary Beth: Anyway, my hero, Harriet Cotter, goes off to school …

Wendy: Harry Potter goes off to school …!

Mary Beth: I know. Many characters go to school in children's stories. The character you mentioned goes to a place called Hogwart's. It just so happens my Harriet goes to Stanford, which is a better school with more dramatic possibilities. In my opinion.

Wendy: (vo) Imitators, like Mary Beth Elsinore, are beginning to flood the children's book market, following the most successful formula. This concerns child development experts, including famed research pediatrician Lester Fussman.

Lester: Children and laboratory rats have a lot in common. If you let them learn to press a certain button for gratification, they'll sit there and push and push and push and push and push and push and push. If they enjoy reading a book about a wizard boy, then they will ONLY want to read BOOKS about WIZARD BOYS. And nothing else.

Wendy: Can't parents help them … diversify their reading, and say … well you know, Timmy or Suzy … if you liked … that other one … maybe you'll really like THIS!? Try it!

Lester: Kids get in a rut. If it's Wizard Boy stories they want, that's all they'll accept. And as a result I fear they will grow up knowing only wizard boy stories, with wizard boy thoughts and habits as their only frame of reference.

Wendy: That sounds awful. What can we do?

Lester: We need to expose the children to a broad range of interest areas.
The broadest possible! There should be as many possible stimuli in the least amount of time. That leads us to …

Wendy: You don't mean …?

Lester: Yes, television. I recommend at least two hours a day. More if you can get it. Force them if you have to. Then talk to them about what they've seen. At least it won't be wizard boys and magic spells.

Wendy: But TV is starting to pick up on it too!

Lester: Make them watch FOX. Then you'll have plenty to discuss, like police videos and arranged marriages.

Wendy: Fussman is only one child development specialist trying to find a way to suggest that children STOP READING so much and do other things. Bill High is the marketing director for Tranquil Valley Mall.

(sfx: mall ambiance, w/echo?)

High: Just a year ago we were bringing in extra security to patrol when kids were loitering here. Since they've started reading in the quiet of their own homes, we've had to put up some incentive plans … free pop … more current music … even some "shoplifting permitted" zones, just to get them to come back.

Wendy: I see some senior citizens over there.

High: We actually handed out laser pens to some of your senior citizens, hoping they'd start to play with them and get a little obnixous.

Wendy: On purpose?

High: It creates a certain tension that we think is good for shopping. But the older folks pocketed the pens and … I dunno. Gave 'em to their grandchildren, I guess.
People expect kids to be hanging out at a mall. If there are no kids on the benches or teasing each other by the fountain … folks begin to ask "what's wrong?" We can't afford to have that happen, or it's all downhill for us.

Wendy: And so … one town faces a struggle to find it's balance in a world made topsy turvy by the unpredictable effect of a popular series of books.
Where will it end? Will our children be reclaimed for the traditional pursuits of too much TV and loitering, or will the current fascination with reading lead to arts patronage and good spelling?
I'm Wendy Vapors, and I'm reporting.


Dale Connelly Reporting Home


Minnesota Public Radio Home     Search     Email  
© Copyright 2000 | Terms of Use  |  Privacy