In an earlier blog post, I explored the idea of quality in children’s literature. Despite Neil Gaiman’s belief that there is no such thing as a bad book, many teachers and school librarians feel that there is. They view books through adult eyes, judging them in terms of quality, appropriateness, taste and educational value. Within many schools, this results in the promotion of acceptable books, creating “a school book-based approach” (Cremin, Mottram, Collins, Powell, & Safford, 2014) to reading. Children whose preferences sit outside these titles, authors and genres find their choices discouraged by educators. Disempowered and marginalised within the education system, they either turn away from reading or only engage wholeheartedly with it outside of school.
The current accountability culture within education focuses on outcomes and standardised testing (don’t get me started on that!). As a result of this, reading is being taught in a sequential and structured way, with texts being broken down into their component parts and analysed. This emphasis on literacy rather than literature has put many children off reading, making it is harder for them to learn to read. Yet when reading for pleasure is encouraged, children are more likely to push through the difficulties of a text, because they want to know what happens next or because they have an interest in the subject matter of the book.
Learning to read is important, but learning to love reading is life-changing
Today there is a move towards schools promoting reading for pleasure, because it has been shown to improve outcomes. Whilst I am pleased with this initiative, I believe reading for pleasure should be encouraged for its own sake, not for what it might achieve in terms of test results. Reading for pleasure should be embraced because it’s enjoyable and good for the soul. It is also empowering for children, because it is all about personal choice (Cremin et al, 2014). This can clearly be seen in Wisdom From A 12 Year Old, a post on Jackie Morris’ blog. It contains a letter written by Phoebe opposing the recent library closures in the UK. In it, she points out the difference between being made to read certain books in school and choosing what to read in libraries: “I can read what I want. I have the freedom to choose. If that freedom got lost I would start to lose interest. Lose interest in books. The thing I love the most. Reading would just become a chore at school” (Howard, 2015).
Reading for pleasure is about choosing what and where you read!
Reading for pleasure occurs in schools when teachers and school librarians recognise, accept and respect children’s preferences in terms of reading material. This removes barriers to reading and is more accepting and respectful of individual choice. All texts, in whatever genre or format, are then valued for promoting a love of reading for its own sake. In this way, all children can experience the pleasures of reading.