My favourite part about it is making book recommendations – especially recommendations for children, or people who are buying for children.
I think it’s the selfish hope that the words and worlds that entranced me as a child will go on to entrance new young minds; that maybe they’ll get bit by the reading bug; that they too will become obsessed with the fictional worlds; that they’ll learn about the many faces of humanity they haven’t yet encountered.
Point being, it’s a very cool thing to be a part of. And it’s nice to see adults taking an interest in the reading material of the little people in their lives.
But then there’s the other side of it. The not so nice side when the judgments and opinions of adults hinder more than help their child in terms of reading.
There’s one particular situation which sticks out in my mind more than others.
A mother requested recommendations for her two young boys – one an avid reader, and the other one not so much. It was easy to make recommendations for the former, unsurprisingly, but it was the latter I was most determined to find something for.
“He likes horses,” his mother said, and deducing he wouldn’t be interested in the ones with pink, sparkly covers of horse fiction, I tried the reference books, also pointing out the horse magazines we had.
His mother, however, wasn’t too keen as they would have pictures and she wanted him to focus on reading – on words.
Which, I wanted to point, would still happen with the magazines, except there’d be pictures interspersed between the articles.
She wanted him to read books, though, good quality ones that would shape him into the kind of accomplished reader she obviously wanted him to become.
It was clear, however, when the boy picked up the horse magazine, poring over it, begging his mother to get it for him, how passionate he was about horses.
What could have been the harm in buying the magazine? If you already admit your child has difficulty reading, surely you’d want to supplement their reading with an interest of theirs. In this case, the boy’s equestrian tendencies could have eventually compelled him to read the magazine articles. Which in turn could have prompted him to seek out equestrian manuals, and novels about horses, and maybe eventually arrive at “War Horse” which his mother obviously considered suitably appropriate image-unaccompanied reading for her son.
The mother wasn’t having any of it, though. She wanted him to pick a proper novel, but of course, there was nothing to interest a son who wanted pictures in his books, or to placate a mother who wanted her son to move on to more grown up books.
The boy quit pestering his mother after awhile, and went outside to wait on a couch while she and his brother made their purchases. Surely, that – zero reading material – is not better than reading material with pictures in it.
If a child is not interested in reading, then forcing them to is certainly not going to work. And neither are narrow-minded judgments about what is legitimate reading. If one boy wants to read novels and the other wants to read magazines then by all means let them. Don’t extinguish whatever small interest they might have, simply because it’s not the type of interest you would like. Keep an eye out on how to keep the flame alive.
I had to bite my tongue as the mother kept on talking right to the end of her shopping about how she wanted her son to read “real” books while he sat outside, empty-handed, exhibiting zero interest in this world behind the glass doors that his brother and mother were occupying.
What you read is not the key. It’s how you read. Discussing the magazine articles together, based on the boy’s interest in horses, could have easily fostered a strong interest in reading over time. By forbidding the boy from reading books with pictures, the mother is risking eliminating his interest in reading entirely.
This fervour for Quality Reading becomes detrimental to what it hopes to achieve. A love of books and stories is not created from having classics pounded into you – it starts when you read something out of interest, out of curiosity.
I grew up reading all over the spectrum – from Sweet Valley High series to Black Beauty. And it wasn’t until I acquired more reading that I grew to understand how beneficial different kinds of reading could be, from the one-dimensional world of the Sweet Valley High series to the more nuanced one of Little Women. Growing up with the Wakefield twins taught me just as much as growing up with the March sisters (though, admittedly, they were two groups of very different lessons).
|Two sets of sisters that I wished I was a part of|
Conversely, having read all the Classic Greats is not guaranteed to make you an engaged reader. I used to believe reading widely was the key to an open-mind, but that is not the case. I’m acquainted with someone who reads above average, but is one of the more close-minded and judgmental people I know. It’s all in the method, not the content.
If you’re worried about how your child will digest certain worlds, then by all means teach them to read critically – let them know that not everything should be taken at surface value, coax them to question the world around them.
But don’t snuff out that tiny spark of interest when it’s on the brink of igniting, all for some grandiose vision of the “Right” type of reading.