Okay, okay, so I’ll come clean. I, a zealous hermit of a book-lover, am an English student, and before I was that, I was a slightly smaller zealous hermit of a book-lover. Story books have had a monumental influence on my childhood, and that influence hasn’t stopped now that I’m 18 and pay for the pleasure of studying them. For me, reading books was a key into the English language, especially as a native German-speaker in a new country. At the time, speaking to other six-year-olds in order to get a better grip on grammar and vocab was, for obvious reasons, not the best of language resources (shout-out to the bizarre and often hilariously beautiful intricacies of Estuary slang).
But whether you’re a native speaker or not, books are an amalgamation of all kinds of language and communication lessons. New vocabulary is given a context so it can be more easily incorporated into daily speech, and dialogue and first person narration immerses a child into a different person’s point of view, constituting a crucial stage in early development. Even the framework of the story itself, with the way varied sentences and plot points make it interesting to read, can influence a child’s understanding of communication, teaching them how to articulate themselves out loud.
It’s been said so many times about people of this generation that “children these days don’t read enough!" and, “they’re being brainwashed by technology!” and so on, ad infinitum. While it’s easy to be bitter about older people trying to rake us back to a time before the wonders of the World Wide Web, there might be something in it. It’s objectively so much easier to become a passive spectator to a Netflix show or to spend hours scrolling down any given social media platform than to become intellectually engaged in a book. But the increased attention span it takes to finish a book is key. Being able to pay attention to an activity until its completion is an invaluable skill, as anyone suffering under the burden of their own procrastinating tendencies will tell you (I must cast a guilty sidelong glance at my unfinished essays). Far from maliciously forcing a young, overly-energetic child to glue themselves to one spot, first understanding their interests and then tailoring their reading material accordingly can result in a fantastical imaginative dynamism that can feel just as fulfilling as an hour in the park or on a video game.
At the risk of sounding like a desperate primary school teacher, reading truly is fun! From the vintage charm of Enid Blyton’s school stories, to Roald Dahl’s whacky characters, to modern classics like Harry Potter, the reader is placed in the midst of exciting and unlikely action that real life just doesn’t seem to offer (although if you do happen to be in possession of a magical messenger owl, hit me up). Fictional adventure never ceases to be exciting, and that excitement is best experienced as a kid, when suspending disbelief and immersing yourself in a new world is so much simpler. Always getting a child to ‘read smart’ over reading for pleasure doesn’t only antagonise the person enforcing this, but also give books themselves a bad name. I hear more and more kids complaining about how books are ‘boring,’ and honestly, I don’t blame them. You won’t breed any instant geniuses by reading Paradise Lost to your four-year-olds, so you might as well give them a fair chance and let them enjoy a good comic.
So, go forth and encourage children and young people to read! In whatever format they come – your iPhone screen, graphic novels on your mum’s Kindle, a ludicrously massive leather-bound volume, free original story sites like Wattpad and fanfiction.net – stories are, above all, a way of expanding the imagination, of widening creative horizons. And if nothing else, some of them have really cool pictures.