We are very excited to welcome an amazing teen writer to our Oasis today.
She's the author of an amazing five-book middle grade series, the first of which was released in January of this year. A leader to her peers, she's a huge advocate for literacy and spreading the love and importance of reading to every child everywhere.
Oasis Seekers, we are pleased to introduce you to Riley Carney, author of THE FIRE STONE.
Riley, you are such a huge advocate for reading and writing. Where do you think that conviction came from?
I think that my love and appreciation of reading and writing has come from the constant presence of books in my life. From day one, my mom would read to me and I associated reading with a happy, safe place. Also, we rarely watched television. For entertainment, we read or we played Legos and Star Wars and other games where we were about making up stories. Now that I’m older, I see that the benefits of reading and writing are more than just as a form of entertainment; they provide us with the tools we need to lead happy, healthy lives.
How do you think it can be passed on to others?
I think that the most important thing is to surround kids with books and help them unlock their magic. The best way for parents to do that is to give them books that they actually enjoy reading. Parents should spend time with their kids at libraries and bookstores to find genres and authors that tweak their kids’ imaginations and make them excited about reading.
Often teachers and parents try to make kids read books that they think are good for them, but kids are frequently bored by those books and reading becomes a chore. For example, if you were a twelve-year-old boy, would you rather read the Percy Jackson series and the Harry Potter series, or would you rather read Pride and Prejudice?
That’s not to say that there’s not a place for the classics, especially in school, but pleasure reading should be gratifying.
Libraries are great promoters of children's literacy. How do you think we can raise awareness in this country to bring more children to visit our libraries?
That’s a difficult question. Unfortunately, I think that the desire to read, and therefore, the desire to seek out places that have books, like libraries and book stores, begins at an early age. If a teen is a reader, enticing them to the library could be as simple as having appealing programs and activities at the library, like a Hunger Games/Catching Fire event, etc. If a teen is not a reader, it becomes very difficult. Time Magazine just had a story about an extensive research study that showed that the best way to improve kids’ performances in school is to bribe them to read. Ironically, once they start reading, kids often keep reading, even without the bribe, because they begin to enjoy it. So, I guess the goal has to be finding a way to get kids to read, and they’ll seek out the library.
How has your life changed since THE FIRE STONE: book one of THE REIGN OF THE ELEMENTS SERIES was published?
My life has certainly gotten a lot busier, but I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s really been a transformation for me, both in daily routine and in my own personal outlook. I’ve always been pretty disciplined, but now I have to balance schoolwork, writing, my literacy nonprofit, and speaking to schools around the country, and it has made me very conscious about how I spend my time and about enjoying every minute.
How did you develop the setting, the storyworld for this story? Some people have dreams, others think of it while driving in a car or taking a shower. Any weird stories like that?
The world in my book didn’t just pop into my head one day. It was more of a culmination of many ideas over a long period of time. I am always careful to jot down notes when a thought comes to me, and to later revisit them. The world of Mundaria is the result of many notes.
It is our pleasure to spread the word about the nonprofit literacy organization you've started:
Breaking the Chain. How did you first come up with the idea for such an amazing organization?
For as long as I can remember, my mom read to me. I grew up surrounded by books, and the importance of education was emphasized by my parents. When I was fourteen, the summer before going into high school, I learned that over 120 million kids around the world are denied access to a basic education, and that over 126 million kids, ages 5-17, work in hazardous conditions. Additionally, in the United States, 1.2 million kids drop out of school annually. I believe that the way to break the chain of poverty and exploitation of children is through education. I wanted to do whatever I could to change those statistics so I created Breaking the Chain with the goal of breaking the chains of poverty for children through education.
What countries are you most involved with?
Internationally, Breaking the Chain has built three schools in Africa, two in Sierra Leone, and one in Kenya. Currently, we are focusing our efforts on children’s literacy in the United States.
Could you tell us a little about what you and those who've joined you have been able to do through this non-profit organization?
Breaking the Chain has built three schools in Africa, and provided water purifications systems and alternative income for two of those villages. In the United States, we created a children’s literacy center at a Women in Crisis shelter in Colorado, and bought thousands of books for different reading programs around the country. Now, we are dedicating all of our efforts and resources to our program Bookin’It, which puts books into classrooms in low-literacy/high-need elementary schools. I am very excited about this program because it can have such a significant influence on children’s literacy. Most of these children do not have books in their homes, so it is imperative that they have books at school or they will never learn to read. We focus on elementary schools because that is the most critical time for literacy; if a child does not learn to read by the fourth or fifth grade, he/she will probably remain illiterate.
What is your hope for Breaking the Chains organization in the future and where do you see it going?
I hope that Breaking the Chain can continue to promote education opportunities for at-risk children for many years to come. I hope that we can expand to affect as many children as possible, since literacy is the most important component of breaking the cycle of poverty, and currently 3 billion people around the world live in extreme poverty.
Is there anything you'd like to say to your young readers?
I would tell them to keep reading, nothing is more enjoyable than reading, and to keep dreaming, because anything becomes possible if you dream.
As always, Oasis Seekers have a desert question for you.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what book would you most miss?