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Sunday, 29 May 2016

I am not a fan of books…

Karen MacPherson presents three essential ingredients to switch children onto literature – a great recipe for success.

“I am not a fan of books…I am a proud non-reader of books.” This quote has been attributed to musician Kanye West (Mr Kim Kardashian). When I first saw it online I thought it must not be genuine, but as best I can ascertain, he did indeed make this sad announcement. My mind simply cannot come to terms with the idea that a person could think this way. To me, and I suspect any of you reading this blog, a life without reading and books would be unimaginable. Yet we cannot deny that Mr West is not alone in his thinking and that unfortunately, we often see that kind of attitude to reading start to develop among school students.

I suspect that if I wrote about the importance of reading to anyone likely to be browsing this blog, I would be ’preaching to the converted.’ We all appreciate that reading is not just a core skill for succeeding in life, but is in fact an enjoyable pass time that can open whole new worlds to those of us who partake. So how do we make sure that our children value books and reading and grow into adults who retain that pleasure and sense of curiosity? Here are my top three suggestions – I’d love to hear your ideas.
  1. Books and reading are things seen to be valued by significant role models in a child’s world. I believe it is vitally important that children see people around them reading for both purpose and pleasure. It sends a powerful message when a person of influence in a child’s life can talk about their love of reading and the wonderful things it brings to them. Reading aloud to children, even as they get older, exposes them to books they may not gravitate to normally and creates a bond with the person doing the reading. Laughing over silly words in Roald Dahl’s The BFG together, or exploring Tolkien’s Middle Earth with a parent or teacher will create memories that last a lifetime and encourage children to explore reading on their own.
  2. Children are offered choice of reading material and allowed an opinion on it. When I first started teaching, I was surprised that many students saw reading as something that the teacher made them do. They were used to being told what to read and felt obliged to report back that they enjoyed it - even if they did not. No wonder some of them were already switching off from reading! Encouraging students to self-select reading material and giving them the skills to do so effectively goes a long way toward engaging them in the process. As adults we have developed favourite authors and genres and will put a book back on the shelf if it doesn’t appeal to us. While children are still exploring and discovering their favourites, I believe it is vitally important we allow the freedom to do so too. Such freedom emboldens them to experiment and explore and is highly motivating.
  3. Access to quality literature that engages the reader. Perhaps this ought to go without saying, but sadly so many children are not exposed to books at home. (I wonder how many books the West children have at home?) This means it becomes even more important for educators and communities to advocate for and provide quality literature for children. The CBCA plays a crucial role in reaching out to the community, providing information and events to promote reading to young people and their carers/ educators as well as advocating for quality Australian literature and the groups who support it.  As individuals, it is worth reflecting on what we do for the children around us to support these ideals. 

I wonder what you would add to this list?

Karen McPherson

CBCA Picture Book of the Year Judge

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