"What do I do now? I am bored..." is a line that every parent knows. "Why don't you read a book?" is generally met with groans. Evidently, it is a chore and not something to look forward to. In an age where a variety of video games help deliver on quick results and instant gratification, curling up with a book must also mean instant entertainment and satisfaction.
Seeking refuge in books when there was not much to do.
For those of us who have grown up in the 70s and the 80s, books were the main source of entertainment. T.V as an option was rare and limited thanks to the defined timings on DD. Play ofcourse was simpler and happened a lot. But when play and studies weren't happening, books was a refuge for many. Small, local libraries thrived catering to a variety of interests. Buying books meant a trip to large bookstore like Higginbothams and hours spent in simply browsing through racks and racks of colour books neatly stacked, waiting to be picked up. Any book bought was treasured, read more than once and kept carefully to pass on to someone else in the family. We didn't have book clubs then. Perhaps didn't even know what that meant. No internet, no Facebook, no amazing groups such as Reading Racoons, no Good Reads to find amazing books. Yet, we thrived somehow on what ever print material we could find. Summers were especially special as we could travel through books and imagine the taste of scones and jam as Enid Blyton described in many of her books. That memory became even more special when I got a hold of a scone finally 35 years later on a trip. That is the magic of reading that began in childhood and is a part of many of us from the 70s and 80s generations. Even today, for many of us, a book needs to be going on in the background no matter how busy one is.
Books are a lot more easily accessible today, yet many children do not read- the paradox
There has been an interesting transition in children's literature over generations. Of course literature in every era serves as a good reflection of society and the kind of lives people led. The classics tend to be more descriptive in nature and the emphasis is on the use of the language in the most beautiful ways to create an everlasting effect on the reader. Enid Blyton brought along a concept of fun and adventure into stories. Folktales brought forth animals as a characters in stories to convey a message to the reader in the most impactful and easy to understand form. Amar Chitra Katha came along in the 1960s and revolutionised Indian children's literature by bringing forth a number of stories from Indian history, folktales and Indian mythology. Fast forward to the 21st century, the number of children's book authors have grown and so has the purview of their content that has expanded by leaps and bounds.
Yet, there are a few takers who benefit from this abundant supply of beautiful books across genres. Access is lesser of the problems. There is so much happening outside the storybook. Entertainment of different kinds is available on demand. What's more with least effort maximum entertainment is possible today. What's a more tempting option to have fun a video game/T.V show or a winding down with a book while an adult looks over the shoulder making sure that one is actually reading.
Enabling children to read because it gives them a sense of purpose
Book clubs generally choose a common book that is read by everyone and then discussed in the group. While that makes perfect sense for theme based book clubs where readers with common interests meet to read and discuss books in the same genre, these places tend to filter out children whose interests hardly match with the genre chosen. The result is obvious, an even deeper aversion to reading.
What if it is possible to have a heterogenous group? What if there is a place where children with different interests can meet, pick books of their choice and recommend the same to their peers through a variety of fun activities? This approach gives each reader the space to explore based on their own interests. If they like a book they can recommend it to the peers, who have the choice to pick up the book themselves if they want to. Similarly, if a book does not interest them for some reason, they could let the others know about the book and what about it puts them off. Either way, children learn to recognise their preferences and this enables them to independently look for books that could interest them. It is a self initiative and not forced from anyone outside.
Books take a new avatar in the above approach. At the Young Readers' Club, while the young readers share their book finds once in a month, we also collectively choose a book that we can read and discuss together. In these sessions, we learn to analyse the setting of the book, why a character chose to do something, why the author chose a particular approach, anticipate what could happen next, establish connections and so on. There are times when invigorating debates emerge. For instance while reading an abridged version of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers, the readers were amazed that the author describes a event leading to unnecessary conflict between the characters leading to a potential duel over two pages. What surprised them even more was when it was revealed that dueling was banned in Paris. Below is an excerpt from the discussion that followed.
"Knowing that it is illegal, why do they go ahead with a duel at the risk of getting caught?"
"The three musketeers being residents of Paris must know that already. Why did they still agree to a duel?"
"That's the author's way of creating a twist in the story."
"It also confirms with D'Artagnan's character. He is a short tempered person ready to go for a fight anytime some one crosses his way."
As we read further and discovered that D'Artagnan joined hands with the three musketeers to fight against the Parisian police, the group relished the revelation.
"So this is how he joins the musketeers' team. Interesting way to get him in!"
Reading as an exploratory process
Reading to discover that different perspectives can exist for the same book opens up a big world that is waiting to be discovered. New interests in reading get discovered, comprehension improves as the ability to infer and make connections gets enhanced through friendly discussions with the peers in the group. It's amazing how books can bring children together and transform them into active readers who dig deeper, willing to wait for the story to reveal its hidden elements. They enjoy making their own hypothesis and wait for the ending to see if their guesses are right. It becomes a game except that the reward is the feeling of satisfaction of a memorable, long lasting kind.