After writing about cups and tea, it was obvious I would talk about texts. The problem is that I learnt reading very, very easily, so easily that I don’t even remember learning it. I had much trouble learning how to ride a bicycle without training wheels (I was about 9), I have never ever been able to be able to knit, but it is like reading, this very complex intellectual task, was a part of me. I was so lucky ! When I see children who have much trouble learning to read, I am really grateful to have been able to easily master written language. The problem is, though, that I often do not realize how hard a text can be for some people.
Reading disorders, such as dyslexia, are real and penalizing in school and everyday life.
This post takes this aspect into account, and written texts can be read by an adult, or listened to (audiobooks). Having trouble reading – B and A make BA – is not the same as having trouble understanding the meaning of a text.
This being said, « give something true to children » is still my guideline, for tea and teaware as much as for choosing texts.
To be honest, my children are too old now for me to choose books for them, but I can still suggest and help them discover new ones.
What makes me angry is to see so many children books that are only… crap. OK, children who read them have a good time. But what do they learn ? Are these books nourishing for their mind ?
Have they travelled ?
Have they been moved ?
Have they been challenged ?
And children should not be limited to books that are, in fact, only cartoons or literary adapted tv-shows. I will never say that enough : children are able to understand and enjoy stories not at all linked to television, movies, or You Tube.
« Do you want them to read, or them to read good quality books ? »
« Both » was my reply.
Why limiting oneself to junk food, when one can have fresh homemade food ?
Of course, if a child never ever reads, or if he loathes reading (whatever the reasons), just seeing him/her diving into a book is a good reason to rejoice, and I don’t know any parent who would criticize the book he/she chose !
But nothing says that he/she should not be shown more filling, more nourishing readings. Little by little.
That is why the only guideline I have set for myself with my own children : letting them choose their books freely (well, to some extent), and helping them discover other topics, other authors.
How to make your children love reading ?
Ah… That is THE question !! I do not have THE answer, unfortunately. I can give a few tips only. I will be very grateful for any other idea !
- practise what we preach : reading, reading as a hobby or a passion.
- show that reading and books matter to us, parents. Don’t limit the time devoted to reading, unless it is 1.00 am and your child is still reading… I love reading, but my children’s health is my priority.
- accept that books can be damaged, torn, worn, because they have been read 4, 5, 20 times – and still counting. A book must be treated with respect, as any object, but it not something as precious or delicate as bone china.
- go to the library, on a regular basis.
- haunt brick-and-mortar bookstores : to ask for advice, to touch books, to browse them. Advising is what the job of a bookseller. Don’t limit yourself to online bookstores, as convenient they can be : it is not possible to discover new authors, since « advice » is made according to your previous searches.
- accept no-reading times. Life is not made of reading only !
- share your readings with your children and share your children’s readings. Read books that your children love, to show them their choices are respectful and fulfilling too.
- please : do not ask any summary or formal essay about readings. Reading is freedom, it is not a school assignment !!
- give books for birthdays or Christmas, or any other day. I was once told that it was a very one of a kind gift, while for me it was natural to offer books.
- make books a link between adults and children : in our family, we buy each child one book per month, plus one comics at the beginning of each school break. OK, it is a few dollars (no, even more thant that !), but it is a budgetary choice (we don’t have videogames or computergame, we wear second hand clothes only, for instance). I think I want to do the same for my children as my grand-mother used to do for me : each time we would go to the grocery store, she would send me to the book department to pick one…
- give, as well, books that children would not have chosen themselves, even if these books must stay on the shelf for months or even years, before being discovered again. Don’t think « It is too difficult for this child. » When someone is curious, he/she reads everything that comes near him/her.
- « forget » books on the sofa, on the coffee table, in the toilets (a great place for culture)…
- « hide » books for a few weeks, and then bring them in the open again, to make them « new ».
- talk about books just like you talk about anything else : one topic among others.
- read books aloud to your children, event though they are old enough to read themselves. I read His Dark Materials to my daughters. The whole trilogy. It took me a whole year (reading during lunchtime, just like in monasteries). A friends of mine read some classical children literature to his daughters, to have her used to beautiful texts…
- read in paper books, not on a e-reader only. Children can confuse reading and surfing.
Screens : the terrible competitor.
Dear Roald Dahl, a creator of really enticing stories, thought that children had to be considered as serious readers, otherwise they would turn the TV on. And he used to say that book lovers have a great advantage in life, without saying what this advantage is. Unfortunately.
I completely agree with him. The love of reading is a huge strength.
On the other hand, teens and children who feel considered as idiots (by authors) give up books and turn the TV on (or their smartphone, or their computer). R. Dahl said nothing about these devices, since he died in 1990, but I am sure his opinion would have be strenghtened by this screen addiction.
Yes, screens are addictive. And, yes, they can kill the taste for reading. Kill ? Rather numb.
But the worst with screens, is the pressure from peers.
I think the most efficient way to avoid screen addiction is to limit the time spent by children and teens in front of them. It is not to prohibit them, which would make them even more attracting. And allow time and room for reading, on a daily basis.
So, the TV always on, no, definitely no.
So, free and unlimited access to internet, whether through computers, laptops, smartphones, or any other device with a screen, no, definitely no.
What does it mean for an author, then, to « take children seriously » ?
I am not a writer (sadly !), I am only a reader, but I know what I expect from a real writer, one that does not aim at making as much money as possible.
- An idea that has not been used yet, or a topic already used, but with a different approach.
- A different universe/world.
- A story that is not adapted from a TV series or from comics. They are completely different worlds, not compatible with each other.
- A story that is not kawaii-cheesy (for girls, of course), or very muscle-no brain oriented (for boys, of course).
- A story for boys as well as for girls, even if some stories are more likely to be read by girls or by boys.
- The respect for grammar and spelling rules. I do not demand Charles Dickens’ or Washington Irving’s English, but I hate colloquial or slang phrases in written stories. Why not ? Because reading helps memorizing the standard language. Thinking that children are unable to understand standard sentences is regarding them as idiots. For tea, for taste, for beauty, children are able to learn, provided they have demanding models.
- A story that does not evade tough topics : death, serious diseases (cancer, AIDS…), bullying, pollution, historical tragedies. Children and teenagers are able to handle difficult concepts if they are clearly explained. Yes, a story can be a very light and happy one, but children’s stories should not be naive.
- A story that shows emotions (scare, love, sadness, joy, anger, and so on) with all their shades.
- Characters that are not Perfectly Good Super Heroes or Perfectly Evil Super Villains. Just like in real life, each character is made by his/her own personal story.
A few ideas…
i am far from being knowledgeable in youth literature, so this list will be very short. Please, help me !!
> For the youngest ones
Seven Little Mice, by Kazuo Iwamura. Very few sentences, but wonderfully pictures, with numerous details. A little jewel for little ones.
The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit. About… poops. Very cute (and very precise about the shape, size of… you know what.)
Nursery rhymes, for the pleasure of playing with words and sounds.
> For beginners
Dr Seuss’s goofy world (The Cat in The Hat, Green Eggs and Ham…)
> For picture books lovers (both hands raised !!) :
Chris Van Allsburg, The Widow’s Broom, The Polar Express, Queen of the Falls, Jumanji…
> For everyone, different versions :
fairy tales, legends, & mythologies…
> Pour ceux qui savent déjà bien lire ou qui ont une grosse faim :
Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking
Michael Morpurgo, Arthur High King of Britain, War Horse, Kensuke’s Kingdom, Private Peaceful…
Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials, The Ruby in the Smoke
Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
Classic books for young, if possible in an unabridged version :
Roald Dahl, of course !! His stories are unforgettable.
Jack London, Call of the Wild, White Fang
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer
Laura Ingalls, Little House on the Prairie (yessss, this story was books before being a TV show).
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Shannon Messenger, Keeper of the Lost Cities
… and soooo many other ones…