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An Interview with Terry Doherty, Creator of The Reading Tub, Inc., Part One

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The Reading Tub, in promoting reading and literacy, is devoted to "Turning a Page… Opening The World."® I recently had the opportunity to talk with the non-profit organization's founder, Terry Doherty, about her labor of love.

How and when did The Reading Tub get started? What’s its mission?

I have always loved to read and, when our daughter joined us in November 2001, I found sharing books with her to be great fun! One day I was talking with my sister-in-law about children's books (positives and negatives) and she suggested I start a website for parents and teachers.

So I did. I found a do-it-yourself website company in June 2003 and started playing around with ideas. The whole thing started out as a hobby site, with some research, and lots of input and creative ideas from two close friends. Within a year, it had started to grow, and authors started to find us. So I married my love of books with my passion for literacy and launched The Reading Tub, Inc. as a non-profit.

Our mission is to give adults (parents, teachers, librarians, tutors, grandparents, et al.) the tools they need for helping kids with reading. The website has two parts. There is what I call the literacy services side: facts about literacy, information about reading with kids, stats, etc. Then there is the reading side: our unique profiles that help parents find books that match their child's interest whether they are an infant being read to, a pre-teen who is reading independently, or a child (of any age) who is struggling with developing their reading skills.

When I started the Reading Tub, I focused on the "learning" aspect of literacy. That's where "Turning a page … Opening the World"® comes from. Get a child to love (or even just like) reading and you will expand his natural curiosity and imagination… and along the way engender a love of learning.

But our goal really is bigger than just learning. It's simply to bring reading home to families. This is my mantra because it is a statement captures the various facets of children's literacy and reading on several levels. We want to…

Encourage parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles to read with the children in their lives … even kids who can read independently can benefit from time shared reading aloud with Mom or Dad.

Help the adults find great books that match their kids' interests and reading levels (and skip the over-hyped stuff!).

Provide information that explains why reading with a child at home is so important.
Post articles and provide links to resources that help parents/grandparents/teachers teach their children to read.

Who are your reviewers and how may an author or publisher contact you about a review request?

Our reviewers are parents who read with their children and kids who are reading themselves. Some of the parents are teachers or former teachers, some are reading mentors, some just like to read books with their kids. It is very important to us that when someone is trying to find a book for a child, that they know what other children think of the book. Professional reviews are great, but getting feedback from the person who is the intended audience is particularly important to us. We try to wear several hats… like the grandparent who wants to find a book for a child, but wants to know what other kids thought about it first.

In March 2004 we partnered with Be the Star You Are!® another non-profit that empowers children and families through positive media. Their message is that to be a leader you must be a reader. BTSYA runs an after-school center for youth at risk, and they created a Teen STAR Book Review Team. We send them books for the 9 to 12 target audience. The kids read the books and write the reviews. I post them on the website with their logo.

Authors and publishers can contact me through the Website. We have a contact form just for that purpose. I would like to add a footnote. We are more than happy to introduce the world to books published for kids, and we would love the opportunity to read yours. But our role is not to help you sell them. Over the years we have had authors who get angry at us for only recommending that someone borrow their book at the library and not buy it. I can truly appreciate the pride authors take in their work – we do, too – but asking for a review doesn't guarantee that the reader will rave about it.

We are a public charity dedicated to children's literacy and family reading. Our goal is to help get our kids excited about reading. We think telling people to ask for the book in their local library is an endorsement, too. Not everyone can afford to buy books for a personal library.

When we review a book, we are looking at its substantive qualities: did our child like this book? is this a story we enjoyed reading with our child? Does it have educational value (explicit or implicit) that can bring reading to life and make it relevant? Would we recommend that others read this book? We just want to make sure that kids have the skills to READ your book.

Do you have any data on how many American children read compared to other countries?

The National Center for Education Statistics has a chart that dates to 2003. In that chart, "Reading Literacy" for US students is 11th among OECD countries (countries participating in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development), and 15th when about a dozen non-OECD countries are added.

Statistics can be very valuable, but they can also be very pliable, so I try to use them judiciously. Generally, I will overlay them with behaviors and practices that are relevant to literacy in its broader terms. For example, one way to encourage kids to read is to have adults MODEL reading. If a child sees you reading then s/he will accept reading as something important. Well, I read an article not to long ago that said in a recent AP Poll, 1 of every 4 people polled (1,000 surveyed) did not read one book last year. That's 25% of the adult population.

Layer on top of that that more than 20% of adults read at or below a fifth-grade level, and in 1992, more than 44 million adults could not read well enough to read a simple story with a child. Blended together, it is a pretty clear picture of the behavior pattern we're creating for our children.

Think about the long-term impact on our kids and their future success. Analysis of a study published by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2006 shows that nationwide, 38 percent of public school fourth-graders and 29 percent of eighth graders still read below basic levels. For fourth graders, state scores of children reading below the basic level range from 32 percent in Delaware to 67 percent in the District of Columbia. That means one in three children are struggling in reading. Until recently, data suggested that the greatest deficiency was reading abilities among boys; data released this summer is showing that girls, too, are now struggling with literacy.

Then we send our kids to college! Kenneth Gray, in his book The Baccalaureate Game: Is It Right for All Teens? (1996), noted that 80 percent of entering freshman cannot read well enough to do college work. That analysis is now more than 10 years old, but I would venture that things haven’t changed much, because for the fall 2000 semester 76 percent of colleges and universities were offering at least one remedial reading, writing or math course. And it doesn't look like things will change soon.

What seem to be the most popular genre/themes with young children, middle readers, and young adults?

We ask visitors to register with the Reading Tub® so we can determine their reading interests. Having that data helps us prioritize the placement of books we already have for review; and it also helps us see if we are "thin" in a category that match our visitors' interests. If we need to, we can send out a query to authors and publishers to refill the shelves with books that fit their interest categories.

Most of our visitors who registered are reading with kids ages 3 to 8. In that audience, "picture books" is the most common answer, but that covers a broad array of subjects. Animal stories and adventure are neck-and-neck for second place. In houses where families are reading with kids in the 9 to 12 audience, adventure beats out fantasy (though not by much). I need to add, though, that there are lots of registered readers who have no preference for a genre.

Do you think there’s a saturation of the fantasy genre at the moment, or simply enough to meet the demand?

The short answer is yes. One of my parent reviewers asked that I please give him a break from the fantasies. He wants to be able to have enough diversity in what he's reading to give each book a fair review. And when you have too many fantasy stories together they begin to read like they're using the same formula.

That said, for the reader who loves fantasies, there are some great ones out there. We created a page on our site to list some of the really good books we've found.

I am pleased to report that we have gotten some (what I think are cool) historical fiction novels lately. I can't wait to see those reviews come back.

The Harry Potter series has been wonderful for spurning creativity and getting (and keeping) kids reading, and there seems to be a rush to become the next J.K. Rowling. As a former editor, I think that there may be times when authors or publishers rush to get something out there so they don't miss that "hot" genre. So sometimes, I think they push too hard or forget to take a step back and get a fresh look at what they've got. I've seen some books that are being touted as a series in Book One. It seems to me that if you're holding out information for the next book, you could be shortchanging your readers on the first one.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.
  • http://www.aol.com Susan Berger

    This is a wonderful article!
    I would like to add a comment to why children struggle to read.
    I was a late reader. (I am now a bookaholic)I fould that large print and wide spacing between lines made a big difference.
    I loved the childhood of famous Americans series because it had those attributes. I hated the Landmark Biography series because the print was too small and my eyes kept sliding to the wrong line.
    A friend of mine recently came up with a way to improve their child’s reading skill and I would like to pass it on to as many people as possible. While watching TV, they keep the subtitles turned on. By the time her youngest started Kindergarden, he was reading at a third grade level. You get used to the subtitles very quickly and it is a big help.

  • http://www.mayracalvani.com Mayra Calvani

    Thanks for sharing, Susan! That’s a great tip!