It depends on what one associates reading with.
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“We tend to think of that era as one when there were no distractions such as television, computer games and the like. But reading has always been a minority pastime. People say children don’t read any more. This may be true for the vast majority, but I know many boys and girls who enjoy reading- far more than I encountered when I was a schoolboy…Book readers are special people and they will always turn to books as ultimate pleasure.” -Ruskin Bond
Why don’t all children become book readers?
The love for books starts early. Children who would choose to curl up with a book every chance they can get, are typically those who have grown up with books right from the stage of being babies. A book has been their constant companion, someone who gives them joy, someone who enables them to explore a variety of real as well as imaginary worlds. What about those who got introduced to books at a much later stage, say in pre-school? They are tend to be behind those who have grown with books but can still catch up. Sadly, the access to books is limited to what the teacher in school shows, perhaps a few at home that gets picked by an adult. Time passes by and these children never get a chance to pick a book on their own. Reading aloud to them at home or attending storytelling sessions is not in their schedules.
Then comes learning to read. It is daunting. Reading becomes a chore. Books never have been their companions. At this stage, books can never become their companions ever. As they move from higher up in school, text in their school textbooks become bigger and bigger. Reading them and preparing for exams becomes the focus. The concept of reading for pleasure never existed and is not going to magically exist either.
Cultivating the love of reading
Why is it essential to love reading? Apart from enjoying the companionship of books to unwind, living through an author’s imagination or simply learning real facts, knowing how to enjoy reading helps boost academic performance and helps in enhancing confidence of children in the long run.
At the Young Readers’ Club, we choose books as a group. It is famously called the book selection activity. Typically at a time, 3 books are put up on display. Every child in the group shares their observations of the cover before reading the blurb. Thereafter, ratings out of 5 are given. The book that gets maximum rating, gets read and discussed in the group. The book that gets thrown out is also discussed. It is acceptable to reject a book for a reason. No judgements.
Never judge a book by its cover
This is a reminder that comes up every book selection activity. No not from me any more, but from any one of the young readers when he or she realises that one is jumping to conclusions and must probe for more information. After all there is nothing to lose. We read the book together, discuss and in the end, decide if the rating should change for some reason.
Respecting different perspectives When we read together and there are differences in perspectives, we talk about it. Everyone is free to express, free to see the book in the way they choose to. In this process, the book begins to have multiple dimensions that perhaps would not have occurred if the book was read alone and kept aside.
The Artist and Me written by Shane Peacock and illustrated by Sophie Casson, is a fine example of how a reader can interpret the same book in different ways. The book is a work of fiction based on Van Gogh’s life. That raised the question who is Van Gogh to begin with. We set off on a journey to discover Van Gogh. His life had several takeaways which helped the group understand the context of this book even better. The fact that he kept painting no matter what, the fact that he painted a painting 50 times until he got it right from his perspective sent the group making sounds in awe. Questions like he sold only one painting his whole life although he painted 800 paintings, made the children develop a liking for Van Gogh. Hence, when we started reading the book, they were already on Van Gogh’s side as they watched the protagonist, a small boy bully him. It came as a shock to them that the bully bullied because the others did too, not because he enjoyed it. They listened carefully to every word as we read together, eager to share their thoughts about why what the boy did was wrong. As we neared the climax, each one of them came up with their own endings to drive away the boy. The ending of course spoke volumes and left these eager young readers speechless.
An unspoken camaraderie Over the months, the young readers have bonded with each other and respect each one’s thoughts. Even they have to disagree, they do so with grace and with confidence. It is wonderful feeling to enjoy a book together, looking the different messages that different readers grasp as we read and explore books together. They see each other reading and suggesting books in response to each month’s activity. They have discovered so many books this way. Coming to think of it, they don’t have access to Goodreads the way we do. This is their little group that comes up with honest recommendations. There is no need to please any one.