From the Oregonian Link here: Why our kids' love for reading fades By the eighth grade, a teen's reading for pleasure loses out to other activities Sunday, January 27, 2008 BETSY HAMMOND The Oregonian When Iris Liu was in elementary school, she'd check out a half-dozen library books at a time and plow through them one after another, like candy. Looking back, it strikes her as nerdy, but at the time, it was pure delight. She'd read 100 or more books a year just for fun. Flash forward to eighth grade at Lake Oswego Junior High. Halfway through the school year, Iris has finished one book -- one -- beyond those assigned at school. She hasn't lost her love of reading, she says. It's just that she is so busy -- primarily with hours of homework every night, plus daily play rehearsals, family dinner hour and stolen moments spent texting friends. When she can find free time, she's not inclined to reach for a novel. "I'll watch TV or go on the computer for an hour, because I need a break," the 14-year-old says. Eighth grade has become a common tipping point, when book-loving children morph into book-spurning teens. Rising homework loads, increased independence from parents and the lure of cell phones, TV, e-mail and the Internet help explain why. Students who read on their own become the strongest readers and the best writers and tap into the meatiest cultural and intellectual inheritance. Fourth-graders show little difference in reading skill whether they read for pleasure or not. But by eighth grade, the academic perils of not reading emerge: Students who never read for fun are a year or more behind the rest of the class in reading ability, tests show. School librarians say they know the secrets to drawing kids away from TV and computer screens and into books. But it requires an insider's knowledge of young adult books. And with fewer and fewer librarians in Oregon schools -- 390 for the state's 560,000 students, down from 576 certified school librarians five years ago -- they worry the magic isn't happening for enough kids. Those numbers sound bad until you look at how Oregon reading rates compare with the rest of the country. Young teens here are standout readers nationally, with 25 percent of eighth-graders reporting they read for fun "nearly every day" -- tying for the third-highest youth reading rate in 2007. Though Oregon fourth-graders remain crazy about books, two-thirds of them reading for fun weekly or even daily, by eighth grade that fire has died down, even here. Half of Oregon eighth-graders say they read for pleasure just once or twice a month or "hardly ever." Two new studies show what book and newspaper publishers already know: Americans read less and less. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll last summer found that one in four adults didn't read a single book all year, and the typical American admitted to finishing only four books a year. As recently as 1992, the share of American adults who read for pleasure was higher among people younger than 45 than among their elders -- since reversed by plunging reading rates among young adults, according to a November report by the National Endowment for the Arts. Oregon teens say adults should chill. They still consider reading the occasional good book a cool part of the mix -- along with sports, homework, computers, dance, socializing, working and being a good friend. At Lake Oswego Junior High, eighth-graders who admit they have yet to finish a book outside homework say it sheepishly -- and talk about the books they plan to finish. "I like novels. It's just that I have to be really interested," says Max Carter, a golf nut who's halfway through the 270-page golf history "The Match." It will be the first book he's read for pleasure this school year. He's more likely to read Sports Illustrated, because short articles fit into his busy schedule. "But if I'm in a good part of the book, I'll go right to it." His choice of an adult book isn't a fluke. More than ever before, today's teens are equipped to read -- even the hard stuff -- thanks to stepped-up reading instruction in elementary and middle schools. Scores on the standardized tests known as "The Nation's Report Card" show U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders read better than ever, with Oregon's eighth-graders slightly above the average. Infrequent reading doesn't come from not liking to read, some teens say. It's a question of finding the right book -- the kind that matches your interests, that grips you from the start, that feels "real." Too many books fall short. For Lake Oswego student Alex Matthews, ESPN is a bigger draw than nearly any novel. But "Let's Roll" -- the 352-page retelling of United Flight 93 and the heroic crash into a Pennsylvania field -- had him hooked last summer. Now, however, homework is too consuming to eke out time to read, he says. He and classmates rattle off what they face: daily math homework, a science fair project, an assigned novel, a book report, a map to draw, a research paper with 30 notecards due. Still, the same teens reel off a long list of TV shows they watch faithfully -- "American Gladiator," "American Idol," "The Apprentice," Blazers' games, "Shot at Love," college and pro sports, "America's Next Top Model." Kelly Anderson, another Lake Oswego eighth-grader, explains the seeming contradiction: "At the end of the day, I've seen all these words and I don't want to see any more." School librarians say it takes a few key steps to keep most teens reading: Hand each student the right book -- with an appealing subject matter, style and reading level, says Erin Fitzpatrick-Bjorn, librarian at West Orient Middle School in Gresham. "If you can find the right book for a kid, they're not reluctant any more." School librarians, who have time and training to read scores of new titles each year, are best equipped to match books to kids, she says, although some English teachers are good at it, too. Most parents, even those who read regularly, don't stock home bookshelves with young adult literature and wouldn't know a sure-fire read for their middle-school child. Reading should be fun, not a chore, says Rebecca Brown, who spent a decade as a school librarian in North Clackamas. Not every book should lead to a book report, and not every minute reading should have to be logged in a journal, she says. Parents can help by talking about books and newspaper articles and showing interest in the plot and characters of books their children read. Teens are drawn to books portrayed as forbidden. Lake Oswego Junior High English teacher Aimee Eckley sells works by John Steinbeck by calling him one of the most banned authors of all time. She lets students read books with mild adult themes or language, telling them the books are so edgy they must get parental permission to crack the covers. The age-old librarian's dream -- a child opens a book and is riveted to the end -- still exists, even if it doesn't happen week in and week out, says Kelly Anderson, the Lake Oswego student who's read one book for fun this school year. Her choice: "My Sister's Keeper," a 450-page book by an author of adult books. Kelly calls it, "so good, so good . . . I read it because my friend recommended it to me, and she never reads. Never. So I knew I had to read it."