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Be a Story Advocate

George Lucas: “The sciences are the how, and the humanities are the why. Why are we here? Why do we believe in the things we believe in? I don’t think we can have the how without the why.” From  “The Heart of the Matter,” a recently published video by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

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Michelle Isenhoff reminded us in “What Characterizes Tween Literature” that the ages of about 11 to 14 are “the time to start introducing tweens to tough topics they will face as adults, as Lois Lowry does in The Giver. Yet these topics must still be handled appropriately. Tweens are ready to empathize, to problem solve, to experience real life in a sheltered way.”

The power of story—to help us to feel, to understand, and to question—is crucial and exciting for readers of all ages, but especially for the formative and impressionable years of youth. All too often, however, our society pays mere lip service to the value of books and reading. As a humanities teacher at an engineering college, I support the recent focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, especially for girls, but I also worry that the importance of the humanities is too easily overlooked in favor of more financially lucrative and “productive” pursuits.

Fortunately, the humanities and literature in particular are finding an ally in their natural partner: science. For example, last year’s New York Times article “Your Brain on Fiction” discussed brain imaging studies suggesting that “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”

This headline perhaps best sums up recent research: “Science Confirms the Obvious: Literature is Good for Your Brain.”

Of course, we all knew this, but I think that we can also use a (not so) gentle push to be more vehement in our defense of humanities, especially story telling. How can we be better story advocates?

  • We can defend a tween’s decision to spend hours reading fiction “just for fun.”
  • We can take the time to continue to read to children after they learn to read for themselves, even tweens, and especially if they struggle with reading or have learning disabilities.
  • We can read the books our children read so as to have informal book discussions in the car or on walks.
  • We can fill our homes with books of every genre and reading level.
  • We can turn to books instead of smart phones when we need to wait for an event or appointment.
  • We can be an example of someone who values reading enough to carve out time to do so, even if it means unplugging for an hour every night or cutting back on other activities. We can say within a child’s hearing, “I’d love to, but tonight is my reading night.”
  • We can talk naturally with our children about how literature has affected us or helped us better to understand ourselves, others, or our world.

How are you a story advocate?

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Photo Credit: Ryan Day (http://www.sxc.hu/profile/2daydesign)


Lisa RiveroLisa Rivero is the author of several books for readers of all ages, including the award-winning The Smart Teen’s Guide to Living with Intensity and the children’s historical novel Oscar’s Gift. When she is not writing, she teaches technical composition, creative thinking, psychology, and humanities courses at Milwaukee School of Engineering.

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