What Did You Read Today?

Gayle Johnson

[This article appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of The SCOOP.]

How many times have you asked or been asked the question: What did you do today? We all have used that popular question to start a conversation with our children, our spouses or our friends. But what if we put a new spin on that old question? The National Reading Campaign is asking us to do just that by taking the question: What did you read today? as their motto.

As a lifelong reader and a librarian, I love this question! What did you read today? challenges us to examine all that we did read today, from the cereal box to the billboards, from the headlines to emails, and maybe, finally, even a good book before bed. Reading is such a critical part of my everyday life that it is hard to believe that there needs to be a National Campaign to champion the cause. But as I look out at the students endlessly watching YouTube and Pinterest I concede that we definitely do need this campaign. Images are everything and reading with deep comprehension and pleasure has drastically decreased.

In January, I was lucky enough to attend a workshop where Patsy Aldana, former owner of the award-winning children’s book publishing company, Groundwood Books, and present Chair of the National Reading Campaign, spoke. Her tireless efforts to establish this National Campaign are staggering, her dedication to promote children’s love of reading is endless and her vision is awe-inspiring. She began Groundwood Books in 1978 when she realized the vacuum that existed in Canada in publishing books for children and young adults. A true person of the world, Patsy grew up in Guatemala, was educated in the U.S., lives in Canada and France and travels the world in search of great children’s literature. It was on these travels that she realized that many other countries have National Reading Plans making reading a national priority, and she believed that Canada should adopt this outlook as well.

It’s important to point out that this program is not about Literacy, but about encouraging people to read for pleasure — an aspect of reading which research reveals is being killed by literacy testing! Ironically, as literacy test scores rise, enjoyment of reading decreases. As someone who has had to endure the seemingly endless preparation for the grade 10 Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) I am not surprised in the least.

The mission of the National Reading Program is: “To make reading a national priority,” and their vision is “To create, sustain, and grow a society in which each of us has an equal opportunity to become and remain a lifelong reader.” The easy-to-access and very informative website for the National Reading Campaign contains information on their mandate as well as their initiatives which include the TD National Reading Summit, CanLit for New Canadians, as well as an Aboriginal Policy Initiative. Six underlying principles for the National Reading Campaign can be found on the website, which contains important principles such as: “Access to material in mother tongue, official, and Aboriginal languages” as well as “Promotion and access to Canadian-authored materials of all kinds. This is essential to our self-knowledge, culture and democratic practices.”

This campaign encourages and allows readers to become critical thinkers who will have control and thoughtful input into the democratic process; Aldana sees this as critically important to our society. Shouldn’t we all be concerned that our country is maintaining and promoting everyone’s access and ability to read? Not only will this develop critical thinking skills, but empathy and understanding as well.

So take the time to read today — and ask your children, your spouse and your friends “What did you read today?”

For more information on the National Reading Campaign go to www.nationalreadingcampaign.ca.