There can be absolutely no doubting that children should have access to books. Sadly, many children show less enthusiasm for them than they should. Why? I think part of the problem stems from school. Very young children are usually avid readers, loving the books that they are allowed to borrow from preschool, and even the earliest years of school proper. Unfortunately, over time, reading the mass of text books and set books that they must review erodes the interest. Reading becomes a chore, and thus something to be avoided.
Yes, I know that movies, TV programmes and computer/console games also impact on the desire to read, but I honestly believe that they have less of a rôle in the problem than the burden of reading placed on children by schools. Apart from text books that are so dry and uninteresting that it’s amazing the authors managed to stay awake long enough to write them, the concept of “set books” imposes the tastes of educationalists upon children. There’s no doubting that some books are definitely worth promoting as reading matter, but to force any book on a person, of any age, will not make a favourable impact on their desire to read. To add to the forced reading, the child is then expected to write a good review, according to a set formula. Under this mountain of pressure, only the most avid readers will continue to read for pleasure, usually those who have access to a large number of books at home, or via a good local library.
How can we fix this situation? There are many excellent books being written for children of all ages, so the supply is fine. Some books will break through the barriers because of hype and mass marketing tactics in general, such as the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling. Generally, the hyped books still have to be good enough to keep the child interested. Some TV series contribute by having a complementary series of books. All this helps somewhat. Ultimately, however, we really need to look at the system used in schools. The initial “borrow what you like” attitude should be carried forward. The selection of “set books” should be increased significantly, and include popular books – not just those with critical acclaim. I know that I wrote far better reviews of books that I enjoyed reading, when I was a child.
As a matter of interest, one of my own children had the same set book, George Orwell‘s Animal Farm, every year for three years! That’s obviously a ridiculous situation. I know for a fact that initial liking of the book was quickly replaced with a weariness that means that very few of the children from that time will ever read that book again. I also know, from my own children, that self-selected reading was always far more enjoyable than forced. Of my three children, two continue to enjoy reading. Sadly, the third can’t be described as a keen reader. All had a large fund of books at home at all times. The two “natural readers” have survived the system, despite its faults. The other reads those things that are related to other interests, and I tend to think of them as being a “natural text book reader” (though the interests in question aren’t founded on non-fiction subjects).
I believe that ebooks could make a very big difference in the number of children who enjoy reading. Being based on the use of popular technology, and with an ever increasing number of interactive ebooks, they should have greater appeal. It’s important, of course, that such ebooks reflect traditional reading matter in format, starting from picture-heavy books, through partially illustrated titles, to almost pure text. Another aspect of ebooks is that font sizes can be adjusted, helping those children with sight problems. I envision a time, too, when ebooks will incorporate other enhancements, such as audio pronunciation guides and assistance for people with reading difficulties, such as those with dyslexia. It’s an exciting time and we need to think clearly about how to make the maximum use of ebooks to encourage more children to read for pleasure.