How to make a child read

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN his informative book, A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel does not touch on any aspect of children’s reading. It is a glaring omission as it is unlikely that children’s reading has no history.

Three developments described by Manguel, however, have implications for children and reading. In 200 BC, Aristophanes of Byzantium invented the punctuation marks. “Before then, written words were strung together in one continuous line,” the author remarks. Punctuation marks must have facilitated children’s reading of the written word.

Another landmark event was Julius Caesar’s invention of the codex (primitive form of book which had pages folded together) in 55 BC for his dispatches. This was easier to carry and read than the scroll which had reams of paper rolled up that no child could have handled with ease.

More than these developments, what must have influenced the interest of children in books over the ages comes in the chapter on ‘Being read to’. Manguel writes about his romance with books that started in his childhood when his nurse read out stories to him that made him “nothing but hearing”. Her voice “made me feverish with excitement and I urged her to read on”, he writes.

So these are the secrets that have helped the book industry attract children to their product. Make the book’s format comfortable to handle and the text exciting to read.

Now they know this is not enough. It is the third element — being read to — that is equally if not more important. Initially, reading has to be a joint activity. Had parents and teachers been doing this, we would not have been lamenting for decades the lack of interest in reading and the low sales of books in Pakistan. After all, the reading habit has to be cultivated in childhood and when firmly ingrained stays for life.

There are some enterprising individuals who are trying to change this. On Nov 25 and 26, the Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) to be held in Lahore — the first event of its kind on a national scale in Pakistan — will hopefully set new directions. The organisers, Baela Raza Jamil of the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi and Ameena Saiyid of Oxford University Press, have announced two days of fun and excitement that will help connect children with the “world of words from which they can develop the taste and love for books and reading”.

Saiyid, who is a leading publisher in the country, says children’s books have enough sales to sustain their publishing and to encourage investments. She notes that these sales are mostly coming from schools. “Parents still tend to focus on buying textbooks,” she observes. “They still have to understand the importance of reading outside the curriculum,” she adds, and the festival is designed to do just that.

Two full-day sessions of reading and storytelling, workshops for creative writing, puppet shows, cartoon-making, competitions and conversations on books should create an interest among children in reading. The agenda is enterprising and shows imagination. When children read books, adults also read.

This experiment has a long way to go given the low ratio of children and adults reading books in Pakistan. Many factors account for this. The literacy rate is low and school enrolment should be higher. Although publishing for children has come up in a big way and colourful books illustrated attractively are now available, many of them lack the professional touch.
They are generally not graded, indicating a random approach to their production. At times, the language and the text are out of sync with the cognitive level of the reader. Only OUP has been professional in that respect as the many series it publishes are graded and produced by experts who know their job. Thus a step-by-step approach, as adopted by the Oxford Reading Tree, seeks to provide children practice in reading making them fluent and confident readers. One only wishes the OUP books were priced more modestly.

A problematic feature of most education-related activities in Pakistan is the class divide that causes all the benefits to accrue to a small elite group receiving English-medium education while the underprivileged are denied the facilities that they need more. Jamil has promised “this will be a truly popular national festival with more children coming from government and non-elite schools”. She dubs it as “a real equaliser”. Many schools are bussing children from distant places — also from other provinces. This should provide these children an “experience to remember” to quote Jamil.

The CLF and the others that are expected to follow in other cities should generate interest in reading among children. It is now up to the publishers to respond to the demand that is bound to be generated. The least they could do is to recognise that this is an age of specialisation, and the need is to train authors, editors and illustrators in the art of producing books for young readers. Considering that children can be harsh critics and difficult to please, it is time the publishers came together to create a training institution to address these issues and offer the needed facilities.

The CLF should draw a crowd of young bibliophiles who will be exposed to techniques of creative writing and reviewing books. Publishers willing to experiment should seek out some bright youth to create a pool of child reviewers to vet all manuscripts before they go to the press. Who can be more suitable to judge a book for children than children themselves?

Source: Dawn

10 thoughts on “How to make a child read”

  1. Let me recommend the works of Andre Kertesz to the reader:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/jul/2

    A book of his photographs was given to me two decades ago by a librarian friend in the USA.

    The best way to get a child to read is to get the parent to read first, and in our case to get him and her to become literate to begin with, using the right kind of literature as was used in Latin America.

    Libraries and access to the Net, and good inexpensive books is essential too.

  2. Among other benefits, education brings social and political awareness that helps develop a civilised society. The education provided in the cities is generally doing this job but our rural children lag far behind and that is where the effort needs to be directed. Unless the rural society is civilised the chances of our success in building a prosperous and tolerant society are limited.

    In fact it can be argued that providing further facilities to the city folks would further widen the existing divide between the city and the country with consequences of further radicalisation of the rural pakistan.

  3. There is a feel alack of attractive children's literature in Urdu apart from Book Group and Paramount we have not been able to find much and even this fails to reach the standards of comparable English language books – it is a great shame that no Pakistani publisher seems to want to seriously address this issue. In the govt school we have adopted in Orangi Town we are introducing story reading time at the end of each morning and have a school library with borrowing facility – here again the lack of Urdu fiction especially for younger children is apparent – so many beautifully designed and illustrated in English language but hard for the children in what is an Urdu medium school. Publishers should wake up – why not publish more books in English/ Urdu dual language?

    1. All this is irrelevant to the issue of children's reading unless by children we mean the those who can afford private fees and the paraphernalia associated with that education.
      Real question is the books published by the Government agencies. They derail all efforts to educate the children they are single-mindedly and myopically want to push religious doctrine at the expense of Education. Education must mean freedom to ask question. Where does that happen within the control of Pakistani Education establishment ?
      Get the state out of religion or the religion out of the state. That is when the question of children's literature becomes meaningful.
      The Urdu literature is extremely poor for children because it not imaginative enough, wide enough to cover the full range of human capacities. The best example to look at the range of subjects is the English literature for children. Once we have gained the maturity of thought and have developed the gumption to do the necessary ground work for the children's education to develop we should be ready to focus our mind on the subject of this article.
      As of now Mullah controls the field which is equivalent to strangling it. Like the Church of England did in the 18th. century, or the Jesuit's did in the Southern Europe.
      Remember the days of Darwin and those who knew that the earth goes round the Sun and their predicaments, they were faced with untold punishments if they crossed the line drawn by the established religion!

  4. Wrong question since us males remain childish for most of our lives!

    What to read is the relevant issue

  5. @ Isa

    I fully agree and understand that first Parent should be well educated and before they teach their children as how to read they must first read the child's psychology/interest and then choose the subjects. I was not interested in Medical education but my father forced me and I failed twice. In Bollywood there is a film starring Aamir Khan "Tare Zamin Par". A film MUST to see with family and deals with this issue. Child was brilliant but neither parents nor teacher understood child exactly but hero of the film Aamir Khan (as a special teacher) detects his abilities and inabilities and child became topper.

    @Habib

    Sir! Exactly the education should aim to develop 'civilized society' as well as job-oriented. In fact the first preference is being given to 'job-oriented' attitude and some times at the cost of 'civilized society'

    @ Jalal

    In Delhi (nearby Jama Masjid and other main Masjids) books are available with English/Urdu/Hindi trio language. Might be available at other places. I wonder on your appeal to Publishers of Pak to publish more books of dual language. Please expand your thoughts or let me know if I do not understand as what you have said.

    @ A. Ercelan

    Yes it is not only relevant but A MUST issue as what to Read?

    @ Ms. Zubeida!

    Your analysis is fine and appreciate able but not a complete one.

  6. Chakmak in this area was a pathbreaker; the children's journal that was started by my brother, Vinod;
    their 300th issue is out.

    Badri Raina (New Delhi)

  7. SAMIN KHAN OF SHERPUR-WELL I WAS BORN IN SHERPUR 8 MILES FROM NEPAL BORDER-WHEN MY BISMILLAH WAS HELD MY MOTHER CALLED HER OWN TEACHER TO TEACH ME-BISMILLAH WAS HELD NY NANI BROUGHT A TAKHTI OF SILVER FROM RAMPUR STATE-THE NEXT DAY I DID SOME THING NASTY SO MASTER MISBAH UDDIN SENT ME BACK INSIDE THE ZENANANA HOUSE WITH A NOTE'RAISON KE BACHE PARRHA NAHIN KARTE HAIN.'THEN ANOTHER MASTER ZAHIR UDDIN SUGGESTED TO MY MOTHER-NOOR US SABAH BEGUN'APKE PAAS PAISE BOHUT AP ANGREZO KI SCHOOL MEIN NAINI TAL AND MUSSORIE MEIN PARRHAIYE-SO I STUDIED IN BRITISH BOARDING SCHOOLS BUT BOTH MY MOTHER AND FATER WERE COMPULSIVE READERS OF THE BOOKS AT NIGHT.TWO OF MY KIDS RUBAB STOOD FIRSYT CLASS IN BOTH BA HONS IN IR-TAZEEN STOOD FIRST CLASS SECOND POSITION. IN PHYSICS.SALMAN AND KAMRAN STUDIED ON A TENNIS SCHOLARSHIP IN USA-AFSHAN IS AN RTIST/PAINTER.OUR HOUSE IS FULL OF BOOKS.ONE HAS TO PROVIDE THE RIGHT ATMOSPHERE IN THE HOUSE FOR THE KIDS.

    1. @ Samin

      You comments are valuable.

      Use of Capital letters in full length gives a sense that some one is 'shouting'.

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