The total disappearance of paper books was predicted a few years ago, with ipads and Kindles predicted to dominate the world of reading. It did not happen.
Friday or Saturday mornings in Book World in Dubai Mall, or the Bookworm shops are evidence of this. Bookshops are packed with children of all nationalities, choosing books to read, enthusiastic children and youngsters, scouring the shelves full of anticipation and eagerness. Snippets of conversations overheard reveal that far from forcing them, parents need to rein in their children’s desire to buy books. They would like to buy the whole series or several books by the same author in one go to ensure that they do not have to stop reading !
The pleasure of settling down with a new book, ready to embrace the journey the book is going to take us on is one of the greatest gifts parents and educators can bestow on children. If a child is willing to sit and read, willing to make the mental effort to imagine and visualise, willing to engage with complex imagery or vocabulary, in addition to themes they are not already familiar with, we know we have succeeded in their education. Like a gourmet chef, they are able to distinguish true value and flavour, whether it is the story, the topic or even the historical era they are interested in. They can appreciate nuances and subtleties, creating their very own, internal full-blown 3D animation.
A child who can imagine a world conjured up by just the words on a page; who can emotionally relate to and empathise with characters conveyed through black and white print only; who can experience curiosity, excitement, even fear, based on their imaginative response to writing is far better equipped to deal with future mental and educational challenges, than one who merely relies on another person’s interpretation depicted on a screen. If not used, the power of imagination weakens, making the effort to imagine something too much trouble. How often do we hear children say: “That’s too hard, I don’t know what to say about it?”
To all the parents out there, who, instead of a quiet morning at home at the weekend, head to bookstores, a great big: “Well done!” You are doing a great job! You are giving your children something that will help their understanding of the world, of people, extend their vocabulary, and build their confidence in a multitude of ways. You are equipping them with memories that will stay with them – long after their ipads have lost their charge.
Some suggestions on how to encourage children to read:
• Next time you are at a mall, try adding a visit to a bookshop as part of the trip. Perhaps over time you could incorporate this as a matter of course into your mall visits.
• It may not happen at once, but once children see the whole family taking an interest in books as a regular and fulfilling pastime, the idea of reading, or at least looking through books, will become more acceptable.
• No one says that in order to be an excellent reader you have to read books cover to cover. There are natural readers who love a good story; there are also people who read for a purpose, a specific part of a book, journal or manual. There is nothing wrong with dipping into books – a child will still benefit enormously.
• Books need not cost a lot of money. Try buying second-hand, swapping, using libraries and organising bring and buy book swaps at school. Have you ever visited the public library at the Mall of the Emirates in Ductac ?
• Finally, a fantastic way of involving children in the world of fiction is the Emirates Festival of Literature – an annual event in Dubai.
Here children can actually meet some of the authors and illustrators who write books for them – and find out what funny, engaging and highly entertaining people they are. We are very lucky that this event is quite literally on our doorstep – at the Dubai Festival City Intercontinental Hotel again next year in March . Go along, your children are sure to find an event that they will enjoy – and so will you !
Agnes Holly, BA English and German; MA Comparative Literature; Hornsby Dipl Special Educational Needs. Agnes has more than 25 years' teaching experience in various roles ranging from university to nursery teaching, in addition to on-going work bringing up 5 children.