by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I do not personally know trivia-phenom mega Jeopardy! winner James Holzhauer from Las Vegas, Nevada. But I certainly want to meet him after I read today’s New York Times:
As for the sources of his knowledge, Holzhauer has said that an underrated strategy is reading children’s books, which he said are more effective than adult books because they cater to readers who might not be naturally interested in the subject matter.
I have also heard James interviewed on the radio, and he talked about the vast assortment of nonfiction kids’ books he reads as part of the now-not-so-secret secrets to his Jeopardy! success. As Reader in Chief of Scholastic Book Clubs and as someone who has spent her whole career trying to help connect kids to books they will like to read, I believe James’s secret sauce holds for fiction too.
It is the unique power—and, in the parlance of Jeopardy!, the “Daily Double” power—of children’s books to educate, edify, empathize, enlighten…and entertain! (And alliterate.)
Books introduce readers to new worlds. And if I ever do a TED Talk, it will be about how reading is the best—probably only—way to build a rich vocabulary.
Kids (and adults) require continuous immersion in words expressed in context on all kinds of subjects. No one can cram for a large vocabulary: you have to develop it over time and integrate rich words into how you think and express yourself. It takes a strong vocabulary to be able to express yourself clearly in a way that others can understand: in conversation, for school assignments, when writing blog posts.
Ever since I discovered reading, if I’m not involved in a good book with a good story that’s sitting on my nightstand with a bookmark (or later on in more careless years, with the corner of the page turned down) waiting for me to read before bed or on vacation or on the weekends or during any downtime (although never in the car because I would get horribly carsick if I read in my assigned spot in the back seat), I feel like something is missing.
I don’t feel “complete” unless I am in the middle of a good book. It feels as if I am going through the day wearing clothing that doesn’t fit me right—or has some kind of weird stain on it I didn’t notice when I put it on in the morning— kind of awkward. This sense of being incomplete without a book started in elementary school when I first got hooked on Beverly Cleary and has continued, for decades, into my adult life.
Sometimes it takes a while to find a good book that we connect with. I love to get and give recommendations for great reads to my family and friends, my colleagues—and many of the teachers we work with every day at Scholastic Book Clubs.
Until recently—only slightly before James started his Jeopardy! winning streak—I read only one book at a time. But as the world speeds up, I find I have several books going at once.
Right now, I am listening to The Overstory by Richard Powers on audiobook during my drive to work; reading a coveted bound galley of Guts by Raina Telgemeier that's coming out—to much excitement and anticipation—from Scholastic Graphix on September 17; engrossed in a hardcover adult novel, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens; and rereading this week’s amazing, page-turning Dollar Deal, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.
But I know all kids (and many, many adults) do not love to read. And that’s okay with me. They don’t have to love reading—they just have to find books that they love.
I read a piece by Beth Jarzabek, a middle school teacher in Western Massachusetts, and I love her approach to helping her students find books they will enjoy. Here’s an excerpt from her article (which I encourage you to read in full):
I don’t have a crystal ball or magic formula to determine the future and the fact that at least one text will reach each one of my students by the end of the year. Nor do I have a “one size fits all” factor that will determine which book will reach what child in the short amount of time we spend together. What I do know from the time I have spent with these reluctant readers—two things: choice and time.
This idea is fully in accord with what we do and believe at Scholastic Book Clubs: when kids can choose their own books, they are much more likely to finish that book and want to read another.
Some of our most popular books among reluctant, actually all, readers are action-packed adventures filled with excitement, magic, mystery, and even magical creatures—whatever it takes to get and keep young readers’ attention! (And who knows, maybe someday “What is Artemis Fowl?” will be a Jeopardy! answer.)
A friend recently told me about a person who didn’t know reindeer were real. Since reindeer allegedly fly Santa Claus’s sleigh, this person reasoned, they must be mythological, like, say, the Loch Ness Monster, bigfoot, and dragons.
Now, of course I know reindeer really do exist, but unfortunately, I can’t confirm or deny the reality of unicorns, mermaids, or other fantastical creatures (outside of books, of course). But after reading Artemis Fowl, and listening to author Eoin Colfer's interview about his research for this bestselling book—soon to be made into a movie—I think I would do pretty well on a Magical Creatures category on Jeopardy!
So would David Vozar. He has a thing for magical creatures and often feels them as a part of his daily life:
I can’t confirm if David’s fairies are real or figments of his imagination, but like Beth Jarzabek, my Scholastic Book Clubs colleagues, and the hundreds of thousands of teachers we work with every day, I can confirm the power of books—including the page-turning, funny, thrilling, timeless Artemis Fowl—to open magical worlds and change lives. This now-classic bestseller about a 12-year-old criminal mastermind who is on a mission to restore his family’s fortune is action-packed, riveting, and sure to get readers—even reluctant ones—glued to the page.
“Readers familiar with Sherlock Holmes, as well as an array of modern fantasists from Roald Dahl on, will find plenty of homage paid in this savagely funny page-turner.” —Kirkus Reviews
We had so much fun this week pulling together these posts and activities inspired by Artemis Fowl. The Book Boys run through the characters in Artemis Fowl; we present a secret fun fact about Eoin Colfer in Cooked Up from a Book; one seventh grade teacher shares how she uses Artemis Fowl to teach characterization in Book Talks; and Eoin Colfer himself appears in an exclusive interview in Behind the Scenes. And I even got to dress up as a fairy. Next to David as Artemis. How magical is that?!
Enjoy this week’s Dollar Deal, and happy reading!XX,
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs