“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx
Parents and educators often complain that children today find television and mobile phones more entertaining and appealing than books. What is entertaining need not be educative. If the debate were on whether television/mobile phones or books are more educative, books would definitely get more votes. The importance and relevance of reading have been much discussed and debated in recent times, with numerous initiatives to encourage children and young adults to cultivate the habit of reading.
April 23 is celebrated as World Book Day to promote reading for pleasure and foster the joy of reading among children of all ages, as it is widely believed that this can have a significant impact on children’s future success. Have parents and teachers in India done enough to promote reading among young students and make them believe that reading can be fun and transform their lives?
Whenever I see young children with books, I am tempted to ask them about their reading habits. I want to know why they enjoy reading, what kind of books they like when they started reading, and how they developed the habit.
Develop an interest
Many parents and teachers encourage children to read books, believing it will help them develop their language skills, particularly in English, especially in India. However, I have come to realise that this approach does not always motivate children to read. No child starts reading at a young age with the goal of developing language skills. Although being a voracious reader can help improve one’s language, the love of reading is not driven by the desire to improve linguistic skills.
Children enjoy being in the world of fantasy; they love to give shape to their imaginations. Reading stories and comic books helps nurture their imagination, and the act of choosing a book they enjoy brings them real joy. Unfortunately, some adults, including educators, fail to appreciate the value of imagination and prioritise knowledge instead. They recommend books that fail to capture children’s interest and thus cause them to lose their interest in reading. While knowledge is crucial, as Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Recently, a young girl read a passage from Roald Dahl’s The Witches and asked me a series of thought-provoking questions. If a brief passage can encourage creative thinking, some great novels and books of different genres can inspire curiosity in children and young students.
How can parents and teachers encourage reading habits in children? One effective way is to read and narrate stories to the children, which sets a contagious example and motivates them to read. Many passionate readers credit their reading habit to their parents, who showed a love for reading themselves. To motivate children to read, it is important to find out what types of stories they enjoy and then read those to them. Encouraging children to read on their own can also help foster a love of reading.
Read them all
Children and teenagers should be exposed to a wide variety of books, including graphic novels, comics, motivational stories and novels. Everyone who is passionate about reading would have read Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, BFG and The Witches. Dahl, who is considered the greatest storyteller of the 20th century, provides children with the freedom to dream, imagine, and think through his novels and short stories. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels captivate readers of various age groups.
Graphic novels have become increasingly popular and help readers improve their visual literacy and socio-emotional skills. In my interactions with Professor Stephen Krashen, I have discovered his admiration for comics and his contributions to the field of comic books. He enjoys reading comics and engaging in discussions about them. Comic books and graphic novels, with attractive visuals and a focus on plot and characters, can be engaging and promote pleasure reading among young readers.
When asked how reading habits can be promoted among young students, Dr. S. Mohanraj, Professor Emeritus, EFLU, Hyderabad, replied, “Establishing libraries with free access is a necessary step in promoting reading among children. There are also other innovative ways such as printing very short stories on laminated A4-size cards, similar to postcards, which can be placed on a table for children to pick up and read at their leisure. This can help generate interest in reading and the habit can become contagious.”
As a nation, we can celebrate World Book Day in a meaningful way by discussing our favourite books with our families, friends, and others. Taking children to libraries and bookstores can also be a great way to celebrate this day.