Read to Order

Last week I wrote about the vibrancy that marked the refree reading.jpgcent children’s literature festival that I was a part of. At my story readings I started by spreading out an array of books related to that session. As soon as the children gathered there, each once grabbed a book and started leafing through it. Every child urged that I should read for them the book she/he had picked up. The excitement of seeing books accessibly displayed, and being able to pick up a book themselves was palpable.

A few days later I read an article about how in most cases parents are the ones that make the decisions about the leisure-time reading for their children. Yes they take children to a bookshop, but it is they who choose the books that are eventually bought. These decisions are guided by a number of factors, among them the parent’s perception of what they consider “appropriate reading” for their child; sometimes titles or names that they are familiar with, and often, the price.

That is not to decry the role of parents, nor their genuinely good intentions of providing their child with desirable extra-curricular reading. Indeed the very fact that parents take their children to a bookstore or library is commendable enough. However it is possible that the selection of books may not be the one the child would have made. Added to which may be the added pressure on the child to dutifully read the selected books.  Probably a good way to kill the joy of reading itself!

In this process, what seems to be somewhat missing is the pleasure of browsing, exploring and discovering something new, something unfamiliar, or even something completely unknown. And it is this step that leads on to a lifelong love of meandering through the world of books. It is through these wanderings that not just children, adults also discover previously unknown worlds, cultures, and ways of looking at the world. For some people however, it is, perhaps, this very possibility that seems to pose a risk.

Take the recent news story about the self-styled book censor who is deliberately hiding certain books in a library in a small town in Idaho in the USA. These books seem to be those which are critical of the US President Trump, and those that deal with “liberal” issues such as gun control, human rights, immigration, and LGBTQ rights. An anonymous note left by the mystery censor stated “I am going to continue hiding these books in the most obscure places I can find to keep this propaganda out of the hands of young minds. Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure.” Fortunately it seems that this mystery stasher has not destroyed the books but simply squirreled them away randomly among the shelves where they do not belong as per the Dewey Decimal System! For biblio-wanderers like myself, this may add to the excitement of finding literally “hidden” treasures while browsing the shelves!

Going back to children and reading, as adults who play a part in selecting books for children, we need to accept that providing the space for a child to explore and discover the world of books as an independent traveller may help in unearthing unknown treasures which can keep curiosity alive, enrich imagination, and build skills of making choices (even if sometimes it is the wrong choice!).

Read to order or order to read—there is a thin line between the two.

–Mamata

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