|Young Adult Literature and Multimedia—Resources
Celebrities Influence on Teenagers' Reading Habits
University of Wisconsin-Stout
Celebrities have always been a source of fascination for me especially as a young girl growing up a rural community. Their presence in television, movies, and magazines provided an opportunity to dream of one day looking and living just like them. Societyís fascination with celebrities has always fueled conversations at the water cooler whether it is talk of the latest celebrity breakup, ìdid you see that episode of [insert current popular television show here] last night?î or the events of the ìbig gameî. Technology has only added to our ability to stay current with ongoing celebrity drama as we are kept up to date with 24-7 cable and satellite programming and the Internet. As a result teenagers in the 21st century are bombarded with media presenting the daily drama of celebritiesí personal and professional lives whether positive or otherwise. Interestingly enough, family culture may play a role in the extent that celebrities influence teenagers. According to the results of a survey conducted by the Scout Association of more than 1, 000 13-18 year-old British teenagers, ìyoung people are, despite popular opinion, cynical about the celebrity lifestyleî (Donovan, 2007, para. 2). While this research is reassuring to many parents, most would still agree that teenagers do profess a strong interest ñ some perhaps an unhealthy attachment ñ to celebrities vis-ý-vis a short-lived ìcrushî, respect for their talents as an actor or athlete, or a desire to look just like them.
Whether considering the results of the Scout Association survey or the consistent gamut of celebrity turnover, celebrities understand they represent a product that must be continually promoted and reinvented to maintain their ìAî list status. This mutual attraction between celebrities and their fans can result in the endorsement of many things ñ including reading. The popularity of Oprah Winfreyís book club selections have prompted many blogs (web-log discussions on the Internet) asking for her to include childrenís book selections as well. Dolly Parton instituted an Imagination Library project that distributed free books to over 215,000 children in December 2005 (Imagination Library, 2007). The concept of using celebrities to motivate students to read has been propagated by the American Library Association. Their posters that illustrate actors, writers, and sports celebrities holding a book chosen by the celebrity with the single word ìREADî can be ordered by teachers and librarians from their website (American Library Association, 2006).
Educators and parents can use celebritiesí status to encourage and motivate students to read whether it be a book written by, about or narrated by a celebrity. In the article, Using Celebrities to Motivate Students to Read (2001), the author Janet Towell notes that books can be located by browsing in bookstores, womenís magazines, professional journal reviews, book club advertisements, searching the Internet or reviewing celebrity websites. In reading this article, I was most impressed with the number and diversity of books the author had accumulated in a sidebar notation that could be implemented in a variety of ways in the classroom. Suggestions included listening or watching music or movies featuring the celebrities or writing to celebrities about their involvement in the literary project. In past Keyboarding classes I taught students were assigned to choose a favorite celebrity and compose typewritten letters to the celebrity expressing their admiration and respect, inquiring about past and future projects and asking whether they used computers in their jobs and their input on that topic (the last part was at my request). Some of the students received responses (with mementos), which they or I read in class. Towell also suggests having middle or intermediate grades research the lives and careers of celebrity authors (Towell, 2001).
While the inclusion of books written by, about or narrated by celebrities can certainly lend diversity to a reading program and provide motivation for otherwise struggling or reluctant readers, educators need to evaluate the quality and relevance of reading materials presented to students. The authors who wrote commentary on the 2005 publishing year for the introduction to CCBC Choices 2006 copyrighted by the Cooperative Childrenís Book Center express concern about the amount of press and promotion celebrity books receive. As a result, those who are not familiar with the breadth of childrenís literature available are led to believe these types of books represent the extent of the genre. The essay did note several authors that hit the mark in creating quality childrenís literature. These include Caroline Kennedyís A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, whose ìoutstanding anthologyís depth, breadth, and range are exemplary.î There are also adult writers who make the successful transition to writing for youth. Peter Abrahamsí Down the Rabbit Hole ìis a fast-paced, captivating mystery for older children and young teens with all the elements of classic whodunit.î Other noted successes include Burning City by Ariel Dorfman and The Game of Silence by Louise Erdrich (Horning, Lingren, Rudiger, and Schliesman, 2006).
The effect of celebrities influence on young adult literature is far-reaching due to the nature of teenagers to recognize and seek out these individuals as fascinating individuals. As a result whether these individuals lend their status to promote literacy, impact it by becoming authors, or whose biographies become motivating reading material, celebrities do influence and impact young adultís reading choices.
American Library Association (Copyright 2006). Retrieved February 2, 2007, from http://www.ala.org/ala/pio/mediarelationsa/factsheets/alacelebrity.htm
Donovan, Kevin. Teenagers Choose Parents Over David Beckham. Christian Today. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from http://www.christiantoday.com/article/
Horning, K. T., Lingren, M. V., Rudiger, H. and Schliesman, M. (Copyright 2006). Publishing in 2005. Cooperative Children's Book Center. Retrieved February 1, 2006, from http://www.education.wisc.edu/ccbc/books/choiceintro06.asp
The Imagination Library. (Copyright 2007). Retrieved February 3, 2007, from http://www.imaginationlibrary.com/yearinreview2005.pdf
Towell, J. (2001). Using Celebrities to Motivate Students to Read.
Reading Teacher, 55(1), 22-26. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from EBSCOhost: Academic Search Elite
Abrahams, P. (2005). Down the Rabbit Hole. Laura Geringer
Kennedy, C. (2005). A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children. Hyperion
Dorfman, A., and Dorfman, J. (2006). Burning City. Random House
Erdrich, Louise. (2006). The Game of Silence. HarperTrophy