CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 9 . . . . December 22, 2006
The title of David Booth’s latest professional text, Reading Doesn’t Matter Anymore, is deliberately provocative. Before we educators start banging our drums and beating our chests, however, rest assured, Booth is not abandoning us. Indeed, rather than jumping from the reading train, what Booth is actually doing is inviting more people to hop aboard. The title for each of the twelve chapters in the book begins with the words, “Reading Doesn’t Matter Anymore Unless We…”, and then Booth proceeds to explain how we can ensure that reading DOES continue to matter. For instance, the title for chapter one is “Reading Doesn’t Matter Anymore Unless We Expand Our Definition of Literacy.” Chapter six is entitled, “Reading Doesn’t Matter Anymore Unless We Value the Reading Responses of Young People.”
Booth writes that school literacy pursuits need to be purposeful, authentic, pleasurable, positive and supported. Literacy needs to involve choice and connections, empowerment and enjoyment. Teachers need to adopt a mentoring role as they assist young literacy apprentices in their development. As Booth writes, some children need someone “to sit beside them and show them the secrets” to enjoying successful literacy experiences.
A strong advocate of the notion of multi-literacies, Booth insists that educators need to embrace the concept. More needs to be done in schools with a variety of literate pursuits, far beyond the traditional concepts of reading and writing and continuing much further than merely introducing tools such as word processors into our literacy instruction. At book’s end, Booth includes a list of 101 literacy events “intended for kids, parents, teachers or all three.” The list includes enough variety to keep readers excited by the options around them. What’s more, in light of the New Literacy Studies and multi-literacies, the list also serves to illuminate Booth’s broad understanding both of reading and texts.
Booth writes of the need for young people to have opportunities to “own” a text. He uses an interesting analogy of how people learn to swim. They immerse themselves in the water. It is all around them, touching them at every turn. So too should children’s literacy experiences.
Written in a straightforward, often forthright manner, Booth gets to the heart of the matter and he leaves his readers with no doubt as to where he sits on the issue. Reading does matter, and Booth wants it to matter for more and more people in more and more ways.
One of the beauties of the text is the anecdotes that Booth shares from his experiences learning and teaching both in the public school and university settings. Often liberally coated with humour, he has ways of telling stories that makes one stop and think. His humorous anecdote about the time his father helped him complete an art assignment is a classic. Booth was in grade three and struggling to catch up after several absences due to illness. His well-meaning father stepped into the breach and completed twelve art projects for his son, all of them “fine examples of grade three student’s work.” Little did Booth or his father realise that the artwork would be featured on the classroom walls for a parent-teacher night at the school. Too embarrassed to admit his role, the poor old father could not rejoice in his “first and last gallery showing.” What’s more, many years later, Booth found himself teaching in the same school and—can you believe it?—“there above the blackboard, too high to reach…still on display all those years later,” was one of his father’s paintings!
This book will make for a wonderful text for a school professional development reading group. Indeed, with Christmas just around the corner, I would love to see school administrators loosen the purse strings and invest in ten or a dozen copies of the book for distribution among the staff. Not everyone will agree with all of the things that Booth has to say, but his writing style is such that it invites response. I imagine there will be many animated, very productive discussions emerge from a group reading of the text.
Finally, in one of the anecdotes that Booth shares, he is left to wonder at a society that spends considerable amounts of money on purchasing fashionable, designer clothes for children, but often gives “little or no thought about clothing their minds.” This book represents a warm woollen coat for the mind.
Gregory Bryan teaches literacy education courses at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.