There are perhaps no days of our childhood so fully lived as those we spent with a favourite book.
The theme for this month at The Book Wars is providing reading recommendations to reluctant readers and while I was thinking about the books I want to recommend, I couldn’t stop thinking about the word “reluctant”.
A reluctant reader. A reluctant reader. Why is she/he reluctant? What is stopping him/her from reading? Why does he/she not read?
And then I progressed to:
Why do we read? Or, specifically, why do I read? If we finagle out the answer to this question individually, can we help our children (or the children/people in our lives) find the beauty in reading? I understand that not everyone is a voracious reader. In fact, not everyone chooses to spend the precious free time they have on reading (I don’t know why) but that doesn’t mean they don’t read at all. If we impress a love of reading on children at a young age, is it a guarantee that they’ll grow up to be readers? I don’t know. Does reading ensure a better standard of living or maybe a happier life? I certainly believe so but studies need to be done to prove this hypothesis. Let’s err on the side of caution anyway.
I was given books at a young age. I remember huge picturebooks my kindergarten teachers in Fiji read to us. The Little Golden Books in grade one, followed by lots and lots of Enid Blyton. At my primary school in Fiji, if you came first in your class, you would be given a book prize in a prize giving ceremony at the end of the year. Books meant prestige; they meant intelligence. There were all kinds books during my school years–I remember an abridged children’s version of Great Expectations and the excellent Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe in Form 5 (Grade 10), I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven (Form 6), Swiss Family Robinson and The Jungle Book in Forms 1 and 2 (horrible choices). On our own, we read Dolly Fiction (a teen imprint that published love stories of Australian teens living their Australian lives; we were so fascinated by their foreignness), everything by R. L. Stine (none of the books scared us, the protagonists were so different from who we were), and Mills and Books (think Harlequin). I read everything that appealed to me in the tiny Lautoka City Library and turned my attention to historical romance (hey, I had to read something). We didn’t even hear of Harry Potter until the 5th book was out. My cousins and I would save recess money and sneak to the thrift store behind the bus station to scavenge for yet more books. Books would make trips between houses through sugarcane fields and be read out loud under jackfruit trees or while we sat on a deserted bridge with our legs dangling into the cool river, the afternoon sun warming our shoulders.
We read thirstily. Everything we could get our hands on, we would read, discuss, then read again just in case we missed something the first time round.
I can’t speak for my cousins but I know why I read. The place we lived in was beautiful but small and I needed something to stock my dreams with. I found these somethings in the books I read. I was fascinated by lockers (we had desks), by the idea of casual dress at school (we had uniforms), by the food the characters are (burgers? pizza?). Reading provided the building blocks for my dreams and in my dreams I reinvented myself a million times over. Reading wasn’t an escape–I had a splendid childhood–but a revered activity that allowed me to grow mentally as I grew physically.
Now I read because it is cathartic. I spend my anger on villains and my sadness on the injustices faced by fictional characters. I share the happiness of successful sieges and awe at dragons and magic. Now I read to escape but I reckon adults usually do. (Heh.)
To return to my original thesis (says the queen of tangential discourse), before we start recommending books to reluctant readers, it is necessary to find the source of their reluctance. This question has many different answers and is (probably) unique to each potential reader asked.
To get to the source of their reluctance usually requires a frank (and kind) conversation.
If the reader in question thinks reading is boring, then there are certain ways to go about making the activity fun for him/her. What if instead of reading someone else’s stories, they read stories each of them have written, featuring people they know and places they have been to? If they are frustrated (or overwhelmed) by the number of words in a book, reading out loud to them until they’re hooked by the story is also an option. If they want to know what happens next, they’ll have to read the book to find out.
Investigating why a child (I say child but really the observation has no age limits) is reluctant to read is half of the work. Once the roadblock to reading is removed, then recommending books the reader is interested in will be fun.
Sometimes children associate books with learning and learning with school which comes with its own issues. If the school environment is not a pleasant one for the child, then he/she will not want anything that reminds him/her of it and reading is one of them. Teachers will better know how to approach and solve problems like these but my point is, identifying the reason a child is reluctant to read is extremely important.
People read for many reasons: to escape, to find themselves, to learn, to grow and expand. Once we identify the source of the reluctance some children have to read, we can construct reasons for them to read. Whether it be for escape from a stressful environment, entertainment (a movie made up of words), or for learning or all three, giving them solid reasons to read will, in my opinion, ensure they continue doing so long after they have left childhood behind.