Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Do Children NEED to read more books?

While working on the next funding application for Empleo, I came across this piece of pop discussion from the BBC. 

It's asking the question "Do Children NEED to read more books?"


It includes this comment from a Professor in Literacy at 

Sheffield Hallam University, Guy Merchant.

"There are numerous other forms in which reading and writing goes on these days, and I'd be keen to advocate their use as well. It's not just about books; it's about sharing the written form in whatever form it takes.
Interactive storybooks on [tablets], for instance, have huge benefits - they could be equally as important as traditional book stories.The most important thing is sharing text with a skilled reader, that's the core.There's often a strain of "golden-age-ism""When we were young the television was rationed so we enjoyed good books, and why shouldn't children today?"It's quite easy to blame new media for making book reading seem old-fashioned or "uncool". [But] we've got more possibilities now, and the more that we can encourage good quality interactive books in different media, the better.There's more reading and writing going on these days with the advent of things like the internet and mobile technology. Kids are growing up in a much richer literacy world, [but] it's not the world that some of us grew up in".

I read this argument time and time again. It always reminds me of something a lord mayor of a small town in Vichy France in 1941 might have said. "Well, Claude. Buggered that we've been taken over by the Boche, and it's not obviously not ideal, but at least we've still got our Claret and Boule!"
I'm not going to argue with a professor - he's far sharper than me, by the nature of his business, but I don't agree with him. 
Books improve literacy far more than any number of Internet blogs. I was badly let down by teachers, as anyone who has ever read my football book may attest, and when I arrived at Polytechnic, I was pulled up after my first assignment and asked if I wanted extra tuition in English. 
I said no and then, humiliated, read everything I could - all fiction. All of it. If that's "golden-ageism" then fine.  Bully for me. 
Had I carried on reading countless tediously written Psychology papers and text books, I would have been in big trouble career wise, as I went on to be a pretty decent bidwriter. 
It was fiction that improved my literacy, not magazine articles or sport commentaries. I am convinced that I'm not unique either.
Case in point: I've done some research and this is the 400 word paragraph I came up with to explain why a) Fiction maximises life chances and b) enhances communities. Thought you might like to read it.

"Evidence suggests that fiction readers achieve more in life, find better jobs and are generally happier, more contented human beings.  This message needs to get across to children at risk of leaving reading fiction behind. 
Reading helps children develop critical language skills and improve communication. It enables children to understand that life is a narrative and, essentially, so is community. 
Fiction since the Greeks is fundamentally about people. Books help children understand the history, context and psychology of the world they live in. 

Reading longer works of fiction, as opposed to blogs, joke sites, celebrity gossip, sport, magazines and other internet staples, improves concentration, opens up new worlds and stimulates the imagination.  

In fiction, children can see language written by skilled writers, in all its richness and glory, with all its sumptuous lexicon and extensive vocabulary; writing you don’t often get on internet blogs, which can be functional and prosaic.

Reading fiction can improve social skills, analysis, thinking and the ability to appraise - critical skills essential in higher education. A good work of fiction, gives life context, brings great joy and can stay with the reader forever, providing guidance, solace and inspiration when necessary in the challenges of life.  

Literate communities, where reading matters, are happier, more contented, healthier and enjoy higher levels of employment. High levels of literacy ensure inclusion and access to a wide range of jobs, education and leisure activities. Literacy enables access to University and students who access higher education have higher levels of income and are shown to be happier, more contented people. 

A strong, successful community requires strong and secure literacy skills for its constituents. 

Research suggests that low levels of literacy are associated with poor educational attainment, limited employment prospects, poverty, crime, health inequalities and lower social and political participation in our society. 

Children that don’t read often fall behind in a wide range of academic subjects, including mathematics. High levels of literacy ensure inclusion and access to a wide range of jobs, education and leisure activities. 

Poor literacy skills are strongly associated with social deprivation. Communities which have residents with higher levels of literacy are happier, more contented are healthier and have higher levels of employment. Lower levels of crime have been recorded.  

Books encourage an interest in the wider world community. Huge groups of people meet on social media to discuss books. These groups tend to be educated, knowledgeable, multi-cultural, international, and extremely passionate about fiction.

That's my bolding, by the way, for the purposes of this blog. All this information is freely available on the internet and I wish I had time to reference this - but if you were interested, you could look it up for yourself :D

Let's get kids reading fiction. Not just the Internet.


  1. I could not agree with you more. While I accept, even embrace, our changing world, even have a Millennial son who's made the same argument as the Lit Professor about the reading he accomplishes on new media, there is just a different literary, emotional and mental experience that occurs when one immerses themselves in long form fiction.

    First of all, and we see evidence of this EVERYWHERE, much of what is posted online these days by way of articles, blogs, even memes, comes replete with misspellings, poor grammar, sloppy narrative and dubious fact. It seems the bar for what's acceptable in writing has lowered commensurate with the scores of untrained writers needed to create click-bait for the countless sites hungry for 24/7 copy. Between that and the staccato bursts of text-length communication that suffices as sentences, it is undeniable that the depth and richness of reading is being lost, to a certain extent, in modern media.

    And, still, it is discoverable in fiction. Beautifully composed, artfully imagined, narratively complex fiction. The gift that keeps on giving.

    And it doesn’t have to be an either/or -- old or new media. At least that’s what I tell my son. It is a BOTH. Read both. But don’t relegate fiction to “old media,” or “old school” assignations. It is as relevant and necessary to our current culture as a working modem. And fiction, as opposed to that modem, will leave one with sustaining ideas and inspirations. That’s never old school.

    1. Lorraine, thank you for replying. I agree with you entirely. We can do Both, can't we. I think that's what the professor is saying - and some of the others in the article, the great and the good, as we say over here. But if I was a member of that august body I would tubthump for the book...

      ....and, still, it is discoverable in fiction. Beautifully composed, artfully imagined, narratively complex fiction. The gift that keeps on giving.

      ,,,exactly like that! Thanks, L :D

  2. I agree with you completely. I can't imagine growing up and not having spent some part of every day reading fiction. Kids need to cover both new media as well as books nowadays there's no either/or. Reading actual books starts at home, continues at school and should be encouraged everywhere they go until it becomes an essential part of their life.

    I have a horrible feeling that in the not too distant future set texts will be dropped from the school syllabus and the kids will have to write reports on such things as blog posts etc because it's felt not enough of them are managing to get to the end of a book and what a depressing world we will be living in then.

    1. I think they have to study Social Media in some depth, nowadays. The fella that I worked with on Dawn of the Unread told me it is an option in a Media degree too. Now this is fine, as you allude to, but what about the humble book. Okay, if you take HP, you're going to get fun characters and an absorbing story, but you are not going to get the beautiful prose we were exposed to. Beautiful Prose, if there is such a concept, which you seldom get in social media, is as endangered as the set text and that would be a shame, wouldn't it, Georgia.
      It all started with the Plain English Society ha ha ha. Thx for reading and commenting, Georgia. It's always appreciated.

  3. Great article, Mark. Having got a 9 year old boy and 7 year old daughter I know the importance of encouraging reading of fiction books and my 9 year old has suddenly discovered the joys of reading on his own (as in a whole novel), and he is so proud of himself when he's finished. I check he's understanding it all and not 'skim-reading' but he loves it and it's great. I can't imagine a house without any books in it! Your Brilliant Books scheme is wonderful, long may it continue! :-)

  4. Love this. Thank you for sharing. Truly inspiring!