In a world filled with technology and digital distractions, are children still picking up a book for fun? The answer is yes.
US-based Scholastic Corporation, a publishing, education and media company, conducted a survey last year to study children’s reading habits. Their results showed that 65 per cent of children will always want to read in print.
Sammira Mohi Al Deen, a homemaker based in Sharjah, is not surprised by these results as her 18-year-old son is an avid reader. A student in Malaysia, her son travels home every few months and his favourite pastime at the airport is reading a book.
She said: “He has a big collection at home here. There came a point when there were too many books, so I asked him to take some with him. He also owns an e-reader, so he gets books on that to read on the go. I would prefer if he read physical books, but anything is good.”
Her younger son, who is 11 years old, also picks up fiction novels in his free time. His mother encourages him to exchange books with his friends, instead of constantly buying new ones.
She said: “On his birthday, I usually buy books for him. But, the idea of exchanging is great. For example, the beach libraries in Dubai are a good idea. There should be more such initiatives.”
Aleksandra Kisiel, an administration manager based in Dubai, believes that children will always follow their parents actions. If they see their parents reading, they will do the same.
She said: “My brother has young children and they barely watch television or use tablets. When they are bored, they reach for a book.”
As someone who travels a lot, she keeps buying books from different destinations as gifts for her neice and nephew. In her opinion, handing a tablet over to children is enabling them. Instead of that, parents should have a conversation with their child.
She also supports reading out loud to children. She was raised in a bilingual family and as her parents would read stories at bedtime, she learnt both languages.
She said: “Just the fact that your parent is there with you, even if it is just for 15 minutes, is a great thing. I remember visiting the bookstore with my parents and it was a reward to choose my own book.”
A lot of people who love to read might opt to buy an e-reader now. It might be more convenient for people, as it allows you to have more than one book in your hands or bag at a time, without actually having to carry the weight of a hard copy.
Chavi Jain, an 11-year-old pupil based in Dubai, is one of those who has accepted this technology wholeheartedely. She has been reading since the young age of four years. But, her interest in reading peaked two years ago, when she got her hands on J. K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series.
She said: “Before that, I used to read smaller books. But, I finished all seven books in my free time and since then I have been reading regularly.”
Though the book set was bought in its physical form, Jain prefers to pick up her e-reader today. “I keep trying to find new books on it,” she added.
In order for children to read more often, it is necessary for them to have easy access to books.
M. N. Vivekanadan, a Dubai-based student, wanted to share his passion for reading with those around him and so he initiated a small library in his home. With hundreds of titles now available, the members of his library are allowed to take two books a week, free of cost.
He said: “Children are still interested in reading, but they are unable to get the book that they want. One thing I have noticed, which discourages some from reading, is the fact that many books are part of a series. Buying each book would cost a lot of money.”
But, when they have a choice, children do read even the book series, as he has witnessed in his library. There are books for children as young as three years of age and most of his members read at least two books in a week.
He said: “I buy a lot of books and they all become a part of my collection. Apart from that, when people leave the country, they don’t want to throw their books, so they donate it to my library.”
In his opinion, the habit of reading will never fade away. Books might take on other forms, like e-books, but “people will never stop reading”.
In November, 2015, Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar store in the US. Two years later, they already have 12 stores and have plans to open more. So, it seems like bookstores are thriving.
Siju Ravi, division manager at Jashanmal Books in Dubai, confirms this fact, along with reiterating that children’s reading habits have improved lately. The reason? He gives all the credit to the Year of Reading.
He said: “Due to the initiative, people are now more aware. We get customers in our stores who admit that they don’t read, but ask for suggestions for their children. They don’t want to give them a tablet, but instead want them to read a book.”
He believes that social media is also playing a big role in promoting reading globally. Additionally, in his opinion, events in the UAE, such as the Sharjah International Book Fair, which concluded just last week, are successful in promoting a healthy reading habit amongst children.
He said: “Such events encourage parents and schools to visit the venues and buy books for their children. A lot of children and teenagers are spotted at such events, too. And there are both expatriates and Emiratis present, which is a great sign!”
One thing that makes him feel content is when he notices children picking up classics and not just focusing on teen novels. He believes that even if one child who loves to read is present in a classroom, other children will slowly, but eventually follow in his or her footsteps.
He said: “Many people think children don’t want to read, but the problem is that parents are just forcing them to read and not helping them. They hand their child a book and then pick up their own gadgets. I’ve learnt from personal experience that children will imitate you. Family reading time is very important and children will automatically follow that routine later on in life.”