In a recent study, researcher Susan Neuman found that a book flood, even with a great deal of support, is not a guaranteed success.
There was also a 20-hour per week librarian who used carefully planned sessions to draw kids in to book topics. Here's a description from the paper: "The librarian would begin with songs and rhymes, then read
three information-related books to the children, pointing out new words (e.g., considered essential to story understanding), asking questions, getting children to predict events, and holding a brief discussion following the general mnemonic of the INQUIRE model, described below. Children were then encouraged to check out a book after the reading (e.g., open choice) for the week."
At the end of the year-long intervention, compared to children in a control group, the intervention kids showed no improvement in receptive or expressive vocabulary, word naming, or knowledge of information text. Nothing.
What are we to make of these null results?
Neuman has done book flood studies before that have shown positive effects, as have others...but there is at least one other null effect published. What might have made the difference here?
As Neuman notes, there are several possibilities. She speculates that, although they tried to engage the children with read-alouds and other activities, perhaps more needed to be done, especially from a psychological point of view. She notes that the specialists doing the read-alouds were not the children's classroom teachers, and so didn't know the kids well, and might have had a harder time connecting with them. Neuman aptly contrasts physical proximity of books (which they provided) to psychological proximity of literacy (which they might not have provided).
That observation makes sense, and brings to mind Jimmy Kim's work on providing children with books for summer reading. Kim reports these programs don't do much good unless you ensure that kids discuss the books with their parents, or in some way interact with them.
Taking this "it's not quite so simple" still further, it calls to mind Freddy Hiebert's observation that, for children to learn vocabulary for text, the to-be-learned word must be repeated. That's unlikely to happen by chance, and so requires some planning in the reading program.
The same applies for background knowledge. As Marilyn Jaeger Adams has pointed out, even if you succeed with the "just get 'em reading" plan students are unlikely to bump into all the knowledge you hope they will (given that background knowledge is a key contributor to reading comprehension). What they need to read to gain the knowledge needs to be planned in a curriculum.
There message here, I think, is that we should not underestimate the challenge of what we're trying to do. If we aim to raise children who love to read and who read well, we are taking on a significant challenge. It may look easier than it really is, because when it happens in families, we don't see most of the interactions that matter. And of course parents have many advantages over teachers in getting their children to love reading and to excel as readers. That should make us redouble our determination and our effort.