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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with ...



Elzie_3 ... Barbara Elzie, deputy director of Just Read, Florida! The state agency recently released a summer reading list, and Elzie talked about it with reporter Jeff Solochek.

For people who are not familiar with Just Read, Florida!, give us a brief synopsis of what you do.

The Just Read, Florida! office and the Just Read, Florida! initiative are the state's overarching reading initiative that covers parents, students, teachers - anything having to do with reading is part of the Just Read, Florida! initiative. Gov. Bush when he was in office he created the Just Read, Florida! because he felt like we needed an overarching comprehensive office ... that managed and made sure the things that needed to happen in reading happened. ...

And one of the things that you do is create a summer reading list. Can you tell me a little bit about how you come up with the summer reading list?

Sure. We look at a number of sources. There's a children literature comprehensive database. We go to that to find books. ... We are pulling from many other sources. Barnes and Noble has a best seller reading list for children and teens. There's a Florida book awards web site that we sometimes go to. There's another web site called the Sunshine State Young Readers web site. We use that. So basically we're looking to all those sources to get ideas for high interest, high quality literature for students. ...

Sometimes we do get books that come in directly to this office from an author. It's a really good thing to be on the Just Read, Florida! recommended reading list. And so when that happens, we have a staff assistant who reads the books, determines the eligibility, checks for all the things we have to check for like appropriateness of language or content material. Sometimes we do end up doing our own review.

Now, you said it's a good thing to be on the Just Read, Florida! list. Why?

Well, the Just Read, Florida! web site is your one-stop shopping for anything reading. And we have information for teachers and parents and students. And the Just Read, Florida! web site was created about six years ago. Over time, it gets thousands of hits. Teachers, parents, families going in. So it's a very high profile web site. To be on one of those recommended reading lists is a feather in the crown for an author.

You mentioned parents. Should parents be reading these books also? Or should they just be referring them to their kids?

Absolutely. You know, there's a lot of information on that web site ... and there is a sidebar for parents. And so there are just myriad resources in there for parents. No. 1 on the list - let your children catch you in the act of reading. So we do recommend that. In addition to the time, the 20 minutes a day that you are hopefully reading to your child, let your child see you on the couch instead of watching TV reading a book or a magazine or a newspaper.

Should those books be books from your list? Should I be reading Carl Hiaasen's Flush as well as my kids?


Why would I want to read that book or any of the others on the list?

... I love to read adolescent literature. High interest. Very intriguing. And as a parent, if I am recommending to my child to read a Carl Hiaasen, I want to read it too, so I can have meaningful discussions about the book with my child.

... Are there certain books that don't get on the list because someone complains? Or because you decide they're not appropriate, we're not putting them on the list no matter how much the author asks?

Well, certainly if it was questionable content, inappropriate language. Now that's not to say if you would go to some of our books ... at the high school level you would not find ... you might have a profanity. We do have parents who call us and they are unhappy with in the English class at their high school that all of the students are required to read the same book. Some of those books may have some adult content, some language. But we can't dictate to a school what books they can have their students read. But what the teachers must do, and the school must do, is provide an alternate. If a parent does not want their child to read a particular book, the school should honor that and give them an alternate book.

Is this a summer reading list? I know it's called a summer reading list, but couldn't it just be called an all-the-time reading list?


So then, why don't you call it an all-the-time reading list?

For all of our different occasions, like African-American history and Hispanic culture month, we put up lists. Point well taken. It's not just summer. It is year round. But it's a suggestion. Here it is the summer, you've got some free time. Let's do some reading. Let's get into some of these books.

Why is it important to do reading in the summer? I thought it was time to lie out by the pool.

Well, you know you can lie out by the pool and read a book. (Laughs) There are some studies that show if a child does not read over the summer, they lose ground. ... I found a study that was done at the University of California ... that said if the elementary student was not reading four to five books over the summer, when they came back and in his study, when they were tested, the students who read four or five books scored higher on a comprehension test. ...

We talked to Jon Scieszka the other day, the children's author. And he was talking about the importance not just of the words but of the pictures, and different topic matter. Sometimes it can be funny, sometimes it can be completely non-academic stuff that you're reading. Enjoy it. That's really important, too. I just wonder how much that plays into when you choose books and encourage people to be reading.

Choice is an important piece of this. What we shouldn't be doing as educators or parents is saying, We're going to read this book. Give children some choices that tie to their interests. Read all different kinds of genres - funny books, expository text. But it's really great if the children can pick what they are interested in reading. ... (Also,) read to your child 20 minutes a day. Sometimes parents are sort of ill at ease. They really don't know how to question the child. Even if they just read. But of course you're supposed to be ... pointing to the picture, asking the child to predict what might happen next in the book, to retell the book in their own words after they've read it. But if a parent reads to their child 20 minutes a day for a month, that's 10 hours of reading. And it really does add up. ... And to reiterate, when a child is read to, they're building comprehension skills, they're building fluency, they know what fluent reading sounds like.

Should you read to your teenagers, too?

You know, I think so. It's more of a shared experience. My husband read to our teenage son, and he is to this day an avid reader. Maybe you read a chapter together. Or maybe your child reads a chapter to you, and then you read a chapter to them. Or maybe you both read it silently and then you come together and discuss it.

Like a book club.


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:48am]


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