Ruminations on kids and reading
As a child, I read to escape reality, a release from the boredom of living in the middle of the countryside, and of course to experience the adventures written between the covers.
A book was enlightening; it took me to parts of the world that I had never heard of, and it taught me about different cultures. A book was an oasis of happiness and friends that I could dip back into if I felt the need. A well-written novel is a thrill, an education, a distraction and it’s chicken soup for my soul.
Which is why I find it sad that most of the children that I know today, prefer to play on their phones/tablets/consoles. In honesty, reading is just as anti-social as playing an electronic game on your own. Many people say gaming consoles and the like are creating a generation of misanthropic people, who are full of angst and anger for their fellow man. I threw my Xbox away at the age of 45 because my compulsive nature to do better combined with the game’s addictiveness caused me to become downright irritable.
But, in my defence, if you try to stop me reading you’ll see me a damn sight worse!
ADULT BOOKS ARE EASY. KIDS’ BOOKS? NOT SO MUCH
So, as a fiction writer, I was surprised when I was approached to write a children’s book. Adult fiction is easy; the reader requires a thrilling adventure, a robust entertainment package with a few highs and lows thrown in for good measure. A kid’s book, in my opinion, is so much more.
A children’s book should not only introduce the young reader to new experiences, but it should also teach the child something. It’s even better if they are not aware they are being educated. That is the crux of the problem right there. The hard part is imparting knowledge and hopefully a moral or two, while still being entertaining.
MANY CHILDREN’S BOOKS DON’T REFLECT MODERN SOCIETY
I was asked to create a picture book for toddlers. So, not knowing much about this genre, I had to perform lots of research. My conclusions were, in my opinion, quite dire. Most children’s books are primarily about white characters. As an author, I can see that this will have at least two adverse effects: one: that the book does not reflect modern society at all; and two: an ethnic reader will not relate to the book, so you have alienated a huge portion of your possible readership.
I think children’s books need to reflect our modern multicultural gender fluid society.
Besides the multicultural aspect, most children’s books avoid current issues such as disabilities and same-sex parents; again these are factors of modern life. If a parent shields their child from such things at an early age, their child will only ask about them more in the future, instead of just accepting the topic matter-of-factly and getting on with life. I do think children’s books need to reflect our modern multicultural gender fluid society. (How do you feel about that? Please, feel free to add a comment below.)
TYPESTYLE: A FACTOR IN EARLY DEVELOPMENT
The last issue I noticed about a lot of children’s books was that the choice of typestyle is not conducive for early development. There are specialised fonts out there that are not only easier for children to read, but they are also dyslexic-friendly. I know of several parents who will pass the bedtime reading duty on to their partners because they are dyslexic. Having spoken to my friends about it, they feel bad because they are missing out on a large part of their child’s development. So using a dyslexia-friendly font helps the parent, too.
I firmly believe reading is an essential part of growing and developing and this is true at any age. Young Adult books are a booming industry. This is fantastic as the reader will gradually move onto older books with more complex stories and plots. They are also great for adults who just want a quick and easy read because life is hectic at that moment.
I love books. I work with lots of new, up-and-coming authors. I help to organise an annual week-long literary festival. I read a variety of genres. Many of these are outside of my comfort zone, but I find gems that I would have overlooked otherwise. People like Marina Fiorato, a historical fiction writer, and Vaseem Khan, who writes a crime series featuring an Indian detective.
Personally, I love it when I read a book and come away knowing more about a random topic than when I started.
Phil Burrows is an award-winning author. His work includes the sci-fi series ‘Mineran’ and the made-for-children ‘Emily and her Mums‘ series. The first book in the latter series, Emily’s First Pet, revolves around a six-year-old girl and her imagination. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.