Review: Free Voluntary Reading
Krashen, Stephen. Free Voluntary Reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2011. 90p. Softcover, $25.00 (ISBN: 978-1-59884-844-1)
From S. R. Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science to the ALA Code of Ethics, access is embedded as a foundational principle in our understanding of what it means to be a librarian. Access is the basis of the profession, and it is also the basis of Stephen Krashen’s book Free Voluntary Reading. Krashen emphasizes that young people need access to a large amount of reading materials to foster language and literacy development. Further, the author posits that reading should be an enjoyable process and that reading skills are fostered most successfully through voluntary reading. Who better to provide such access to a variety of engaging and enjoyable reading materials than a library?
This short book is composed of previously published articles and conference proceedings, serving as a quick read and approachable text on the topic of free voluntary reading. Though a fairly easy read, coming to the book with some knowledge of research methods and statistical analysis would be helpful in understanding some of the studies that Krashen critiques. The target audience of this book is educators, literacy specialists, policy makers, and public and school librarians. Krashen extensively reviews past research on the topic of building reading skills, especially in the English as Foreign Language (EFL) population, while inviting readers to think critically about the information that he is presenting. Since Krashen cites so many additional sources, this is an excellent resource to use for beginning in-depth research on free voluntary reading.
Although Krashen begins his book by providing the reader with “Eighty-three generalizations about free-voluntary reading,” he does not define the phrase “free voluntary reading” until page 71. This presupposes that his readership is well-versed in this aspect of language and literacy development, and could serve to alienate those who are unfamiliar with the concept of “free voluntary reading.” I strongly recommend reading Krashen’s book entitled The Power of Reading (2004) prior to delving into Free Voluntary Reading in order to build an appropriate theoretical framework for understanding the concepts and research which Krashen outlines in Free Voluntary Reading. In addition The Power of Reading contains an entire section devoted to the role of libraries in encouraging reading, whereas libraries are only briefly mentioned throughout Free Voluntary Reading.
Krashen writes “if we are serious about encouraging literacy development, we need to be serious about providing access to reading materials.” He preaches to the choir, providing – for those with a background in the subject, or a willingness to do a little work -- a simple answer to the questions of where to find reading materials and how to encourage children to read: Go to the library.