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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Three Fascinating Leads

On Teenagers and Books; Americans and Math; Video-visits to Schools.

Teenagers and Books

Kevin Jarrett sent me this, It is the result of a survey of readers aged 15-24. In general the responses were both reassuring to book people, and showed some of the challenges books face. For example,  "Younger Adult book readers live in Two Media Worlds They share many core book reading values with older readers – but are digitally-trained to expect "what I want!" now." For these teenagers and college students, books remain a good choice, but must find their place in a changing media environment. That sounds exactly right to me. The one alarm bell was that this was a survey of young people who already are book fans. The question of course is whether their numbers are changing (for good or ill), and what kinds of answer a larger survey would have gotten if addressed to a random population in that age range. 

Math and US (the U.S., and those of US in Children’s Books)

The New York Times today is running this article about how poorly we treat math as a subject and kids (especially girls) who like math in middle and high school. The only kids who do really well in math in America are immigrants or the children of immgrants — kids who have not been shaped by the dominant American assumption that math is hard, cold, suited to nerds. Here, friends, I believe we in the children’s literature and library world are at fault. Mentioning that one does not like math, or hates math, or did terribly at math takes place so frequently that it almost seems like a password people need to say to be English majors. Math can be hard, it was for me. But when we in the humanities say that it is not as a confession but almost a proud assertion — math belongs to another world, not ours. Remember my suggestion that we put how-to, project books on summer reading lists? What about putting math challenges on summer reading lists? What about setting some cool math problem for the whole school to solve? Why can’t we in children’s literature work to make math cool — even if individually we found it difficult?


Finally, Vicki Cobb was kind enough to tell me about the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration, which facilitates video school visits for museums as well as individuals. I am just getting to know them, but this holds promise for new kinds of author visits.


  1. Anastasia says:

    Hi Marc. It’s Anastasia from Ypulse. The study was presented at a forum organized by the NEA about how to get more tweens and teens to read – inspired by their own research on the growing decline in reading they see happening with teens and young adults. To your point, there are many, many young people who are not reading long form content or books for pleasure or very little. If you haven’t read the study, contact the National Endowment for the Arts and request the executive summary of “To Read or Not To Read” A Question of National Consequence. My hunch is that the research can apply to non-readers if they are matched with the right titles and given the books for free.

  2. Regarding math: it goes in both directions. My high school Calc/Linear Algebra teacher used to assign essays to us so that we could articulate and explain abstract concepts in addition to solving problems. That’s what got me through upper levels of math. I loved the ideas. Too often we focus on rote implementation.

    Mathematicians and poets… all esoteric and misunderstood.

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    Anastasia: I have read the first NEA study carefully, and the second more quickly, and found both unconvincing — poorly conducted and leading to dubious conclusions. But I found your results more interesting.

    I totally agree with ABS and think that high school math teacher has it exactly right. Math students should read poetry,and poets should learn the beauty of math.