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A creative approach to book fairs

What does it take to get a child to read a book?

Different children need different incentives. For some, it could be the promise of a trip to the burger joint down the road with Dad; others might respond to the promise of a new video game after completing a certain number of books; still others need only the promise of a few quiet minutes alone to dive between the covers of the latest children’s fiction.

Whatever the incentive, if the goal is to get children and young adults to read, the effort is worthwhile.

In a 1999 assessment of adult literacy skills by the U.S. Department of Education, 20.8 percent of adults in the United States had only basic reading and writing skills. Furthermore, another education department study found, an adult with poor literacy skills earns about $550 less per week than an adult with excellent literacy skills.

Clearly, to borrow a phrase, reading is fundamental. And fundamental skills must be learned early in the educational process. A 2000 report by the Department of Education states that34 percent of children entering kindergarten cannot identify letters of the alphabet and are not yet at the first level of reading proficiency.

Considering the poor start on literacy that many children get, a recent effort by Creekside Elementary School exemplifies the approach that educators need to take to promote literacy among children. The school recently was awarded a $1,000 prize for its fall 2009 International Book Fair.

The event encouraged reading by engaging the students’ imaginations. Students and parent volunteers transformed the school into a worldwide destination featuring culture from around the world. Then, students received passports that they used to visit each of five different booths, where they learned more about the countries that were represented. Along the way, they saw replicas of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“We all want our children to be successful, have a joy for reading and be high achievers,” Creekside Librarian Kim Richardson said. “To instill that in children, we read to them, encourage them to read and we try to do things to stimulate reading — like a book fair like this.”

It was a creative approach to a problem that cries out for whatever viable solutions are available. Parents of children at other Suffolk elementary schools should take up the banner that was carried by Richardson and others at Creekside. Their own children will be the true beneficiaries.