TV, Computers Can Be Tools To Encourage Young Readers, Scholars Say

February 04, 1999

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Looking for a way to boost your child's interest in reading?

Experts say something as old as the human voice and as new as cyberspace may help.

Betsy Hearne, an international authority on children's literature and professor at the University of Illinois, believes that the time-honored tradition of storytelling "can be a bridge between a world that is focused on television, computers and other kinds of media stories, and the world of books."

While today's children seem more attuned to the visual tradition than they are to the print tradition, and while there now are far more distractions from pleasure reading than ever before, those very distractions -- in the form of computer games, movies and television -- "can stimulate interest in reading and in books. 'The Little House on the Prairie' is a good example of that," Hearne said.

"Electronic media and reading are not necessarily antithetical, not necessarily opposing forces," said Hearne, a co-editor and contributor to a new book on storytelling. "The World Wide Web is one great big storytelling device."

Hearne and 11 other children's literature/storytelling experts explore ways to help re-connect children and narrative in a new book titled "Story: From Fireplace to Cyberspace." The book, which includes papers delivered at a conference on the topic, was just published by the U. of I. Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS), which is home to the Center for Children's Books and to The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

According to the editors of "Story," the essays stress "the critical need to connect children and narrative as a way to affect children's development as listeners, readers, viewers and evaluators of literature -- and information in all forms." The book offers practical, theoretical, literary and cultural aspects of storytelling, told from the perspectives of professional storytellers, school media specialists, editors, librarians and university professors. It is intended for anyone interested in storytelling, including teachers, school media specialists, librarians and professional storytellers.

Hearne, a GSLIS professor and author of five children's novels and the critically acclaimed picture book "Seven Brave Women," said that storytelling is enjoying "a revival of interest," and that she and the other editors wanted to include in their book "some of the more innovative aspects of the genre, such as storytelling and storytelling resources on the Web and contemporary viewpoints on the way story is being used, particularly with children in libraries today, but in other modes as well."

In her essay, Janice Del Negro, the current editor of The Bulletin, writes that "using stories with children has a number of benefits, from the practical increase of attention spans to the lyrical soaring of the soul that occurs when art is experienced."
Editors, in addition to Del Negro and Hearne, are Christine Jenkins and Deborah Stevenson, all from the U. of I. "Story" can be ordered by calling the GSLIS publications office, 217-333-1359.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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