Danny Brassell is big on reading, but he is no book snob.
The California State University, Dominguez Hills professor of teacher education pointed out that there are myriad forms of reading materials, from newspapers and magazines, to electronic readers as well as the Internet, emails and even text messages. It doesn’t matter to him what people read, he just wants them to get turned on to reading.
“Reading doesn’t just mean it’s in a really old book,” said Brassell, a librarian’s son. “If people want to read Sports Illustrated on the toilet, that’s what they should be reading.”
He also absolves readers from books they aren’t enjoying.
“If you don’t like the first chapter, chances are you aren’t going to like the second chapter. …There were over 300,000 books printed in English last year in America. Some of them are pretty good,” Brassell maintained. “We’re taught to finish what we started, and it’s silly. If you don’t like something, drop it. Go to something else.”
He goes so far as to say literary snobbery can have an adverse effect on young readers.
“I tell parents, if your kid likes dinosaurs, read nothing but dinosaur books. I guarantee you, the more he reads dinosaur books, the more likely he will read Shakespeare, eventually. But if you get that kid started on Shakespeare, what you do is you create a kid who hates reading altogether and that’s a bad strategy,” said Brassell, who was himself a reluctant reader as a child. He offered that a better strategy for parents to inspire their children to read is to read aloud to them, find them reading materials about things in which they have an interest, and let them read about that.
Undoubtedly, with three children of his own—8, 7, and 3 years old—he heeds his own advice, and as a professional speaker since 2005, the man deemed “America’s leading reading ambassador” by several school districts and literacy organizations nationwide, spends more than 100 days out of the year traveling throughout the country and in Canada delivering his message of inspiration to audiences of anywhere from 50 to 2,000 parents and educators.
“I pride myself in making presentations that are fun, meaningful, and memorable,” Brassell said. “I don’t ever teach teachers things they don’t know already. What I try to do is remind them of stuff they forgot, which was, ‘I became a teacher to inspire, not to boost the kids to the next quartile on their standardized tests.’ That’s going to come if you inspire [children], because you’re going to inspire them to motivate themselves.”
Brassell speaks from experience. In addition to university students, he has taught everything from pre-school to 12th grade. He asserted that students in advanced grade levels would be well served if teachers would bring the same joy to the classroom that exists in kindergarten classes.
“What works with 12th graders, does not necessarily work with kindergarteners, but what works with kindergarteners works with all ages. You go into a kindergarten class, there’s screaming, there’s crying, there’s color, there’s a mess. And that’s learning. If I ask my kindergarteners, ‘What’s two plus two?’, this is what I immediately get, ‘Four!’, ‘Seven!’, ‘I have a dog!’,” Brassell said, raising an arm straight up in the air. “It only takes ‘til about second or third grade where I get silence, because school has taught students not to take a risk. Quiet rooms are deadly.”
The Redondo Beach resident taught concurrently at USC, Loyola Marymount University and CSU Dominguez Hills from 1997 until 2001 when he devoted his teaching efforts to CSU Dominguez Hills for some of the same reasons he taught children in the Compton Unified School District: the multicultural makeup of the community and the students’ thirst for knowledge.
“This is the only university that I’ve ever been affiliated with that actually looks like the brochure,” he quipped.
To more efficiently communicate with his teacher education students, in 2003 he launched LazyReaders.com.
“I always talk about different books I’m reading with my students here at the university. They started asking me for book recommendations. I started [posting] them on a website, because I was getting tired of emailing them all the time,” he said. “It evolved into more than just book recommendations. People started asking for shorter books.”
Within a month, the site was number one on Google searches for short book recommendations, above Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Oprah, and for more than 10,000 subscribers it now offers book recommendations—all under 250 pages—for adults, young adults, and children. Exclusively for visitors who access Amazon.com through LazyReaders.com, up to 10 percent of the proceeds from their purchases are donated to a Los Angeles based charity Book Ends, which creates libraries at under-resourced schools.
Brassell also inhabits another side of the literary aisle. He has authored more than 50 articles and 11 books on literacy and motivation, including “A Baker’s Dozen of Lessons Learned from the Teaching Trenches” (Shell Education, Huntington Beach, 2009) and “Bringing Joy Back into the Classroom” (Shell Education, Huntington Beach, 2011).
Brassell is no stranger to writing. Prior to working as a teacher and with a bachelor’s in sociology, print journalism option from American University in Washington, D.C., he served as a journalist for the American Society of News Editors. In 2010 he combined his journalism, teaching and public speaking skills, and began hosting a video interview show “People Make a Difference” for the CSU Dominguez Hills distance learning station DHTV. The show airs on Sundays at 11 a.m. through local public access television cable, such as L.A. 36, where it reaches more than four million homes in Los Angeles and Orange counties, as well as online at dhtv.csudh.edu, the DHTV YouTube page and on its guests’ organizational websites.
Through the show Brassell has interviewed entrepreneurs, groundbreakers, and people who are making significant contributions to their communities, such as Alan Sitomer, California’s Teacher of the Year in 2007; Ed Engoron, co-founder of Choclatique a Los Angeles based premium chocolate company; Jacqueline Caster, founder and president of the Everychild Foundation and her husband Andy Caster, who is a laser eye surgeon in Los Angeles; and Kathy Magliato, one of the few female cardiothoracic surgeons in the world and the inspiration for a character on the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy,” just to name a few.
“The reason I do it is because it keeps me up on my interviewing skills, I get to meet all these fascinating people, and …it reaffirms my belief that there’s so many amazing people out there that we never get to hear about,” Brassell said. “The show celebrates the community and gives recognition to Cal State Dominguez Hills.”
As a footnote, many guests have written books that may make for interesting reading.