Transcript: Bringing Up Bookworms

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Interview with Jason Boog, author
Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age

For podcast release Monday, August 11, 2014

KENNEALLY: As foundational as it is to our lives, reading is not natural. Reading must be learned, and that means it must be taught. Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for “Beyond the Book.”

Whether your child enters through the printed page or a digital screen, says Jason Boog, the world of words promises rich rewards, and he insists there is much a parent can do to making that world a welcoming place. Author of Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age, Jason Boog has assembled what amounts to a playbook for coaching and coaxing children to be lifelong learners. He joins me now from Los Angeles. Welcome to “Beyond the Book,” Jason.

BOOG: Thanks for having me.

KENNEALLY: We’re delighted you could join us, Jason. Listeners will recognize Jason Boog from his long-time work as publishing editor for Mediabistro, where he led the GalleyCat and AppNewser blogs. Several years ago, he switched coasts and now toils in Hollywood at True Pictures as director of its story investigation department. Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint published Born Reading in July.

Obviously, Jason, you believe that reading is important, and it should begin at an early age. But the key point of your book for parents is they need to learn how to read to their sons and daughters. Tell us about that. What’s the distinction there? It’s not just that you read, but it’s how you read.

BOOG: Yeah. The whole book is built on – we’ve had these insights for about 25 years now. It’s interactive reading or dialogic reading is the style that child development experts and literacy experts have been championing for the last 25 years. It’s having an experience that’s participatory when reading with a child. It’s, when you’re reading the book, making sure it’s an experience that they are actually joining you on, asking questions at every step of the way.

With my daughter, for instance, this morning we were reading a book, Madeline, the great classic children’s book. And we just talked about Paris. I asked her questions about characters in the pictures. We just had a conversation about the book as we turned the pages, and I just made sure to be asking questions throughout that whole experience.

KENNEALLY: That’s fascinating, because I think one of the things you emphasize in the book is that this is something everyone can do. Now, you’ve got a passion for reading, obviously, Jason, given your background working at Mediabistro and now even in Hollywood there at True Pictures, and you’ve got a chance as a journalist and writer to speak to these experts. But really, expertise isn’t what’s at issue here. It’s the relationship that the parent has with the child and with the book.

BOOG: Yeah, and really I outlined 15 different – I call it the Born Reading playbook. It’s 15 different techniques you can use while reading. Seriously, it takes about a half an hour, at the most an hour, to learn these techniques. Once you learn them, you will never read the same way again. Another really good example of what a parent can do is just, when reading a book, compare it to that child’s experience. It’s a really simple, simple thing. It’s a question – you can say, hey, do you remember that time that we were walking in the park? Or do you remember that time you were walking like a daredevil on a wall? Questions like that make your child compare the book to their own experience, and it really deepens the learning and enriches that experience.

KENNEALLY: Right. Parents today, Jason, they’re pretty rushed a lot of the time. We’re all multitasking one thing or another. And getting to that reading time right before bedtime can often seem like a speed bump on the path to lights-out. But what you’re suggesting is that parents take the opportunity to use that time and kind of expand on it, stopping and talking. You say that reading a book straight through is really not the way to go. But it’s not interruption. It’s a kind of expanding of the experience that’s taking place.

BOOG: Yeah. I would never discourage a parent from just doing a straight-ahead reading. Sometimes my daughter will say, let’s not do the questions tonight. Let’s just go straight through. But yeah, I really encourage parents to make sure that at least some of that time that they spend is really interactive and conversational with their child.

Also, to that point that we are very busy and have these devices in our lives, I think parents really need to be mindful of the fact that they can turn a device experience into an interactive experience, as well. I try to stress that these questions will work if you’re reading an e-book or even watching a video on an iPad. These questions can make any media experience more rich for your child.

KENNEALLY: As far as it goes, you’re talking about bookworms in a digital age, and there’s something of a built-in – not contradiction, but at least you have to have a notion of it’s not either/or, it’s and. We can be bookworms in a digital age. You’re not one of those parents who are trying to keep their kids screen-free, for example.

BOOG: Oh, no. Yeah, we let my daughter use the iPad every day. I show readers a lot of apps that can actually help build young readers using these digital devices. Some examples are the Reading Rainbow app designed by LeVar Burton and his team. It’s a collection of well over 300 digital books that your child can read. It’s like a Netflix for them, for children’s books. They can just scroll through and find them. The app will read the books to your child, if you want, or you can turn off that feature and read it with your child. Apps like that are really encouraging reading, and children – readers these days have more tools at their disposal, I think, than ever before. It’s very exciting for me.

KENNEALLY: It’s exciting, and it’s kind of fun if you’re a parent. My daughter’s going to be a senior at college, but I remember fondly those days when we would read together. But this isn’t just about having a good relationship with your kid. You’ve got some evidence that the results from these kinds of activities and this sort of interactive reading really are something all parents will be very happy to see in their children. Talk about the evidence for this.

BOOG: Yeah, this came out in 2013. A team of researchers looked at – it was about, I think, six or eight different studies of child development, and reading to your child in an interactive manner will increase their IQ by six or more points. That just blew my mind that we have this incredible, incredible enriching experience that we can share with our children. I didn’t understand why they weren’t passing out a pamphlet about interactive reading in the hospital. It really surprised me.

I was pleased, though, this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a new set of recommendations telling doctors that they should be telling parents to read to children from infancy onward just to reap these benefits. So the doctors are behind me now, too.

KENNEALLY: That’s good to hear. We are chatting right now with Jason Boog, who is the author of the new book from Touchstone called Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age. Jason’s a writer, a former editor for Mediabistro, now working in Hollywood at True Pictures. Jason Boog, what about when you speak with experts, and you ask them these questions about reading – in a world, in a time, when the visual, the nonverbal, seems to be taking such a greater and greater importance, even for you. You’re working there in the film business. Tell us about what the experts say is the continuing value of words on a page, whether the page is a screen or a printed page.

BOOG: The biggest benefits come in vocabulary growth, and just that interactive experience, the act of reading to your child, of your voice speaking to your child, rather than the device, is crucial for your child’s development. Our brains are hardwired to turn on when a human voice, caregiver’s voice, is speaking to us. Books are really the ideal delivery mechanism for that. It’s almost medicinal. We spend so much time making sure we feed our children well and that they are having the vitamins that they need, but they also need this intellectual stimulation as well, and books are just the ideal way to do that.

KENNEALLY: Right. I think the stimulation is in their own psyche. I recall reading as a child, and it was an escape, and it was a pleasurable escape. I wasn’t running from anything, but I was looking forward to that time when I could live in the world of the book and the world of my own imagination.

BOOG: Yeah. I talk a lot about storytelling in this book, and one of the things I encourage parents to do is to have their child – encourage them to recount their favorite stories, to tell you their favorite stories or continue those stories. To say, what do you think happened after that princess married the prince, just to continue that story and let them develop storytelling skills. Those skills will serve them for the rest of their lives both in explaining their lives and processing the things that they go through. But also, it does – it builds a place in their imagination where they can go and be protected and be safe.

KENNEALLY: Right. In your book, Jason, your talk about your own daughter, Olive. How old is Olive?

BOOG: She’s going to be four in just a few weeks here. It’s hard to believe. She really grew up over the course of this whole manuscript.

KENNEALLY: Trust me. The next 17 years will be even harder to believe. My daughter’s about to turn 21. But when it comes to that relationship and the experience you’ve had, you were sort of doing a little bit of research on her, weren’t you, as you were writing this book. You were seeing the results. You were having the experience on your own here.

BOOG: Yeah, yeah. She was definitely my research subject. But at the same time, I was the research subject. I became a better father as this happened. I asked all of the questions that I had as a father, so I think ultimately – and I tried to convey this in the book. I learned so much. I was an amateur parent as I started this book. I was not an expert. Speaking to over 50 different experts really gave me a perspective and a powerful set of tools to use, and I became a much better father. I’m so grateful for that.

KENNEALLY: All right. I think everybody listening here who’s ever been a parent knows how it feels to think of themselves as an amateur. We’re all amateurs. I think it goes on for a long time. We’ve enjoyed chatting with Jason Boog. He is the author of the new book from Touchstone called Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age. Jason Boog, thanks so much for joining us on “Beyond the Book.”

BOOG: Oh, it was such a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

KENNEALLY: We’ll close out with a lovely poem from someone whose name may be forgotten, but the sentiment hasn’t changed. Strickland Gillian wrote this almost a century ago. “You may have tangible wealth untold; Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be – I had a Mother who read to me.”

“Beyond the Book” is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights-broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, as well as images, movies, and television shows. You can follow “Beyond the Book” on Twitter, find us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at our website,

Our engineer and co-producer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Chris Kenneally. For everyone at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to “Beyond the Book.”

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