As humans we seek to do what we enjoy. Where there’s a choice, we go for the thing that we associate with fun or relaxation or excitement or simple quiet pleasure. It’s in our nature.
Sadly, this is the reason that many children do not read for pleasure. For a lot of kids, books do not equate with enjoyment. It’s a sad state of affairs, but in the lives of many of today’s children, reading is associated with struggle or boredom or even failure.
Of course there will always be those who find learning to read difficult and therefore cannot be expected to get excited about sitting quietly with a novel. For them, the printed page is a series of mysteries, challenges, and battles with sounds, letters and words. Then there are kids who grow up in bookless households where reading is simply not normalised. Here, it’s a foreign concept to sit quietly and spend time with a story, poem or factual book.
The current English curriculum is another hurdle. Reading is presented as a series of problems, of exercises, of mysterious terms and grammatical gobbledygook. Enjoyment of stories is stolen away by the demands of deconstruction, comprehension, inference and other things that could come later.
But where children associate books with enjoyment, they read for pleasure. This is why it is essential to give young people access to all kinds of written material: comics, graphic novels, joke books, tales of adventure, ghost stories, funny poetry and lots of well-illustrated factual books about things that children love: wildlife, dinosaurs, space, chocolate, music, vehicles, sports, horses, games and more. When children spent time with these kinds of books they equate reading with pleasure and motivation to read results. Association is the key.
Success in getting children reading for pleasure is helped by many other things, of course, and I’m not suggesting for one moment that this type of association is the only route to RfP. High up on my list of other catalysts is enthusiasm of teachers and other school staff. There are many more too: giving choice, providing texts at the right level, effective library use and inspirational author visits to name a few. Where these are ongoing and book-talk is embedded, then a culture of RfP is established and we all reap the benefits.
I’m sometimes asked why as a non-fiction author I put humour into my books. Because it captures readers, that’s why. Happy associating!