Reading is up against a lot of competition these days. There’s more TV than ever and it’s better than ever. More computer games. There’s the lure of swiping endlessly on a mobile phone or a tablet. Some people would no doubt rage at this takeover of technology. Not me! I’ve waited nearly my entire life for technology to catch up with my imagination. In one of my other lives I write science fiction… And I find myself increasingly reading on my phone (when I’m not checking my e-mail or fighting animated monsters!). In fact, the new technology of electronic books and readers has transformed reading for a lot of people. Genre fans, in particular, have embraced digital books – far more than other readers.
But for children, especially, print isn’t going anywhere. There’s no way to replicate the tactile experience of a book, nor its durability, nor its sentimentality. I still have the books I read at four and five years old, with the faded inscriptions, and who wouldn’t want to physically own a book?
And I think this is what it comes down to. I go to too many people’s homes where books are absent. What must it be like to grow in a bookless home? There might be music CDs there, or DVDs (obsolete technology soon to vanish, if it hadn’t already). But no books.
I think the key is that a reading child is a child who grows up surrounded by books. Who has books read to them. Who gets the pleasure, early on, of owning a book with their own name on it.
It’s not that I’m advocating for the endless buying of expensive books. Kids go through them too fast! But even one special book, and that sense of ownership, can mean the world.
And for the rest, there is the library. We should never take a library for granted. That they are fighting to survive now is a terrible thing. A library is the heart of a community, a space for everyone to go, and great for kids. I swear I grew up in the library, when I was a kid. They’re free, they’re fun, and they have everything you need, as long as what you need are books.
I know it isn’t always easy. Not easy to make the time to read, when you can just put on Cbeebies. Not easy when you work late and get home even later, when you have no time to cook, when you just want to put the television on and decompress. I hear you. And it isn’t always easy to make the time and go to the library, or into a bookshop, or go to an event when the last thing you want to do is see people.
I do. I really do! I only became a writer so I’d never have to leave the house, after all…
But books are fun. And kids take their cue from the adults around them. Kids will read if they are read to, if they see books, if they see grownups valuing books and reading. Reading, after all, is a pleasure, not a hardship.
Read to children, and they would respond. But you can do more. Reading and writing are closely related. Everyone, they say, has a book in them. One of the most useful thing I found is that everyone loves to express themselves. Help children write their own books. Write down words, draw pictures, fold and staple paper and voila – a book. It’s fun!
The great writers knew how much fun words were. Just look at any book by Dr Seuss. The joy of nonsense! Of the sound of the words themselves and playing with them. It’s what first drew me to writing, the simple joy of playing with words – my inspiration, strangely enough, was being asked to make up new words for an old children’s poem. The very idea that you could – that you could make stuff up! – was a revelation. I just never knew you could!
I love books and, right now, what I love the most are picture books. At their best, they’re glorious, and I honestly think that that’s where the cutting edge of literature can be found. At their best they can make you cry, or laugh, or change how you see the world. There is a special magic in the best picture books that I can’t see replicated elsewhere.
You know, I once spent a year living on a remote island in the South Pacific (complete with an active volcano) and the kids there had a library made up of old donated books that were sent over by cargo ship. Books get everywhere. But we’re so lucky today that there are so many books – both the great older classics we can draw on, and fresh new books coming out every day – that we’re spoiled. And so many authors ready and willing to show up at schools or bookshops or libraries at the drop of a hat and do an event. You can hardly throw a book around these parts without hitting an author! I never met a writer, growing up. To me they must have been as remote as denizens of the moon.
So make the world you live in a world that has books in it. Love books, and that love will transfer to those around you.
Because books can change the world – and I have to believe that, in order to write them.
This is a guest post by Lavie Tidhar and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the FCBG. Candy was published by Scholastic on 7th June. Lavie Tidhar is the World Fantasy Award winning author of Osama (2011), The Violent Century (2013), the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize winning A Man Lies Dreaming (2014), and the Campbell Award winning Central Station (2016), in addition to many other works and several other awards. Candy is his debut children’s novel.