Penny Kittle, author of Book Love, president of the Book Love Foundation, teacher, and speaker
On the night Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows1 was released in London, my family stood outside Waterstones Books chanting with thousands, “We want Harry!” The covers of our books are worn. They hold our history as a young family.
Today we are all still habitual readers, even with the relentless pull of technology. The thrill of reading is one of my most important gifts to my children and to the thousands of students I’ve taught in the last 33 years.
Today, teens read for an average of just six minutes a day2. How do we charm a child back to a hunger for books? The key is to find a book that will surprise the child with its pull, like the haunting images in Neil Shusterman’s brilliant Arc of a Scythe series3.
Reading is an antidote for lives lived at top speed, because reading lowers your heart rate. After an hour of deep reading a person is less tired and less neuro-chemically depleted4. In the book Bored and Brilliant, Manoush Zomorodi contrasts the frantic nature of social media and the speed of our hurry-up lives with the peace and deep satisfaction of following a writer’s carefully-crafted sentences to ease into our own original thinking5. Reading can reduce stress. We need it; our children and co-workers need it.
When we read on devices we don’t linger; we look for the next rush of new information. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that when thousands of students were asked for a preference, nearly two-thirds of children chose paper over reading on digital devices6. As you hold a book you begin to feel what’s coming because you know where you are. There is a predictable arc from learning about characters and the setting, to the trouble that brews as characters and situations collide, to the resolution of that conflict and the understanding it brings. Investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett says knowledge builds up like compound interest when you commit to reading. He reads 500 pages a day—almost all on paper7.
In January my first grandchild was born. We read to her. We read to each other. We experience the contentment that books provide as we pursue the questions we need answers to.
Nothing satisfies quite like the weight of a book in your hand. I encourage each of you to join this campaign: turn off your devices and read for at least 15 pages on print every day. Make it a habit to rediscover the immense and lasting rewards of sustained reading. I promise: adventure, beauty, and joy await you.