Shock your parents, read a book!

August 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

When I was young, there was this poster in our library that read “Shock your parents, read a book”. To me, the slogan didn’t make any sense. My mother was (and still is) an avid reader and therefore wouldn’t have been surprised, let alone shocked, by a reading child. On the other hand – she always encouraged my reading and tried to interest me in all kinds of books as a child, be it fiction or non-fiction. Having grown up in a bookish environment, I was dumbfounded when years later I realised that in many families, reading is not an integral part of their everyday life.

Reading has given me so much when I was a child, it introduced me to new worlds, fed my imagination and taught me quite a bit of factual knowledge as well. Books and literature have played an important role in my personal development and I think that children who don’t read miss a lot.

Now, one might argue that for a 21st century child, books are obsolete and have been replaced by other media such as television and the internet. Of course it is true, to a certain extent, that other media offer different approaches to children and satisfy their curiosity in a different way. I don’t want to deny the advantages of an age-appropriate computer programme over a simple book when it comes to for example studying or learning a language. But I have the impression that we’ve reached a point where in some people’s opinion, book and especially children’s books have lost their right to exist.

In 1984, Austrian author Christine Nöstlinger gave a speech that has been published as her “Message to the Children in the World”. This little text is one of the most impressive things I have ever read on the importance of books, and almost thirty years after its publication, it’s still as relevant as it was back then. Let’s have a quick look at the text’s core message:

“[A]ll over the world, the TV belongs to those who are in power, and they are in favour of the world the way it is. Many books are in favour of that as well. But there are many books that tell you what’s really going on in the world and why it’s going on. (…) [B]ooks can be a kind of help that you don’t get from anyone else“.

Nöstlinger’s wise words sum up the many reasons why sometimes it’s advisable to pick up a book and read about a topic extensively instead of just relying on the tiny bits of information the daily news or the internet is providing us with. Unfortunately, many adults don’t think this way and pass on their attitude to their children, which is a pity. I believe that no child is born with a natural aversion against books or reading, the same way no child is born with a natural aversion against physical activity. Kids want to explore the world, and it’s up to the parents to provide them with adequate material. If you don’t read to your baby or toddler, it’s much less likely that 10 years later, he or she will be a bookworm. Every child should be introduced to various forms of written words at home and at kindergarten or school, and later on, they can still decide whether they want to stay on the book drug or not.

Reading will help kids to develop an ability to think critically or as Nöstlinger calls it, an ability “to distinguish wrong from right“. If you want to understand the world you live in, this ability is indispensable and should therefore be encouraged even in very young children.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to read War and Peace to your two-year-old. I just want you to take your toddler to the municipal library every now and then so that you can discover age-appropriate books together. There is no “right” or “wrong” reading material for a young child – the essential thing is that they discover the medium “book” as early as possible.

Or, in a slightly more populist way, “Shock your kids, give them a book”.


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