In full vacation, although this year they are certainly far from the normality to which we were accustomed, the eternal question arises: how to get children to read? As a good enduring (and challenging) dilemma, it does not have a clear answer, but there is room for reflection around fundamental questions that can serve as guidance.
Literature as part of a cultural framework
Literature contributes to constructing that social and cultural intertext, that system of references, of anchors, with which we can feel identified, or not, but that helps us to face the world, to understand it, to question it and to put it in relation.
But is literature alone in this task? Cinema, theater, photography, music, illustration … the list of ingredients that make up culture is endless in these lines. Sometimes we forget that range of possibilities when we want children to read and broaden their horizon.
It is about offering different opportunities to get in touch with culture, with the humanities, with what allows children and young people to build and develop their own reference system that helps them understand, appreciate and critically observe the relationships between artistic creations. , historical events, human behaviors, etc.
No one seems to wonder – luckily – how many movies, how many plays or how many pieces of music are necessary, but curiously there is constant doubt about the number of books that a child should read according to their age.
Libraries and bookstores, breeding ground for readers
The specialized bookstores, as well as the children’s and youth sections of the libraries, are spaces managed and directed by professionals who usually have a great interest and a deep knowledge of the field. Turning visits to these places into a routine, as often as each one is capable, will surely have a very positive impact on the development of the reading habit.
Observing other children and young people talking with booksellers and librarians and having the possibility of leafing through all kinds of books to select the next literary encounter can be great incentives to read.
Reflections on the selection
In the field of children’s and young people’s literature, we often try to establish categories that allow us to decipher what a child can and should – even want! – read according to their age.
The conception of a homogeneous reader with common tastes and abilities is another of the stumbling blocks that are often committed and that sometimes lead to setting invisible but irrefutable limits. In this regard, the best recommendation might be variety and trust.
Variety to offer children a diversity of genres, formats, media and styles that allows them to discover what they like and what they don’t, what they feel like at each moment and how they decide to relate to each work. And confidence in the interpretive and creative capacity of the reader in her encounter with the work.
Although the reference system does not coincide with that of the adult and, therefore, the reading can go different ways, this does not mean that there has not been an understanding, a critical and creative elaboration of the poetic language used.
There are numerous investigations on the ability of young readers to interpret textual and visual codes, as well as their interrelation (being that of Arizpe and Styles perhaps the best known) and on the valuable work done by works that take children and readers seriously. they pose a certain degree of complexity (essential How Text Teach What Readers Learn , by Margaret Meek).
Read to read
Children’s and young people’s literature is closely linked to learning; he does not end up managing to separate himself from that obligation to teach something, to educate in emotions, values or concrete and desirable content. That is one of its main enemies.
When an adult finishes a book, they usually do not have to proclaim afterwards what they understood, what they liked the most or what they think about it. These conversations often arise between friendly readers, between colleagues who exchange works like someone lending a treasure; but they cannot be forced and, above all, we cannot pretend that they always arise (Daniel Pennac’s reflections in Como una novela ) are highly recommended .
It is essential to give children and young people the space and time to read in order to read, to read with the peace of mind that questions of comprehension or reflection will not come later if they do not have the courage to do so.
It is not a question of abandoning the young reader to his fate, but of also respecting the silence, the intimate encounter with the book. Lara Meana, a specialist in children’s literature, closed her talk at the Forum organized in 2018 by the Album Association with a phrase that seemed to seek to destroy in order to build: “Reading is useless.”
As mediators we have to assume and understand that the fact of not talking about a book, of not analyzing it, does not mean that young readers have not learned anything from it. However, trying to extract a curricular or moralistic juice from any work that falls into the hands of children can cause, with great security, that literature is not a door to other worlds but one more task to finish before being able to play.
How to converse from books
In addition to being prepared to accept silence around a work, tools are also necessary to engage in conversation when it arises. It is about participating, not always guiding and directing.
A good literary work raises countless readings that we have to be willing to explore, comment on and listen to without having in mind the message that, as adults, we can see as obvious. Also in this line there is much research in this regard and it is worth highlighting the work of Aidan Chambers in his work Dime. Children, reading and conversation , or Ellen Duthie in practically all her projects .
It is about not looking for the correct answer (because it does not exist) and assuming the uncertainty of conversations that may go in ways not foreseen by the mediator. The work must be perceived as a starting point to speak, to think aloud, to share and, mainly, to reach places that may not have anything to do with the beginning of the journey. That is literature and that is how it should be understood in the encounter with the young reader.
Author Bio: Marta Larragueta Arribas is Professor Doctor at the Faculty of Education, Camilo José Cela University at Camilo José Cela University