Bestselling author James Patterson is off trying to do good in the world again, and this time he's looking to take on childhood literacy problems! In a new essay for Publishers Weekly, James Patterson asks readers for suggestions how to #GetKidsReading, and stresses just how important kids' reading skills are, even at a very young age. It's an important cause, and the more attention it gets the better.
In his essay, Paterson goes over some important about children's reading ability, including the fact that kids who aren't reading at grade level by 3rd grade are six times more likely to drop out of high school — as well as the many challenges associated with not having a high school diploma, including increased chances of incarceration. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Patterson points out, 85 percent of those in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, meaning they cannot read or write well enough to meet the needs of everyday life in America.
"I’m not saying that all kids who can’t read well are going to wind up in jail," Patterson explains. "I’m just trying to get across the fact that 6.6 million children are at increased risk of dropping out of high school and are facing preventable difficulties in life because they can’t read well. To me, this is unacceptable."
To try to combat this problem, Patterson is asking people for ideas big and small to at least put a dent in this massive problem. And it is massive. An estimated 40 percent of 4th graders in the U.S. never achieve basic levels of reading proficiency, and that rates are higher among low-income families and children of color.
So what can be done about it? Well, people have been using the #GetKidsReading hashtag Patterson launched to supply a few ideas of their own.
Also important to consider is the lack of diverse children's books currently available. As recently as 2013, more than 90 percent of children's books are about white people, despite the fact that children of color represent 46 of all people under the age of 18 in the U.S. today. It's easy to see why reading would fail to hold kids' interest if they don't see themselves reflected in their books. Diversity in children's literature is increasing, but the gains are still being made far too slowly. Increasing diversity in children's literature might go a long way towards making sure kids see reading as something's that's for them.
That James Patterson wants to help is admirable (and I'm a big fan of his many other contributions lately towards helping libraries and indie bookstores). This is a worthy cause, and the more kids we can help to get up to reading at grade level, the better, since reading can make such a huge difference in a child's life.
We, of course, still need to be thinking about the fact that the the ability to read should not be left up to external programs or the benevolence of charitable donors. Learning how to read is a basic right, and that so many schools don't have the resources to make sure every student has that is a problem that not even James Patterson can truly solve. We have lots of work to still do.