Missing the point: reading for the sheer pleasure of it

The other day, I was in the aisles of WH Smith’s book section when I overheard a conversation between a parent and her child, which went something like this:

‘Well, just pick one! We haven’t got much time, so what do you want?’
The little girl was looking up at the picture book shelves a little sheepishly. She responded, ‘I don’t know, there are so many…’
The parent then picked one off the shelf and gave it to her. ‘Here, this one will do, won’t it?’
‘But it’s too tricky!’ said the girl.
‘Well, how about this one then?’ she pulled another from the shelf and handed it to her.
‘That’s the same. I can’t read it…’
To this, the lady seemed to lose her temper and said ‘Fine!’ before putting the book back on the shelf and leading the girl from the store.

Chossing booksI realise I’m in no position to judge when it comes to this sort of situation. Having no children of my own, I can not imagine the day-to-day challenges a parent faces in terms of time and energy when they want to give their child the best they can: I think it was great that the mother was taking the time to try to get a book for her child in the first place. But I also thought the way she went about it might have had more of a negative effect on the little girl’s likelihood to want to keep reading as she gets older.

From this shop experience it seemed that, from the little girl’s point of view, she’s now been told that she should struggle ahead to read the books that she thinks are too tricky for her, or she won’t get a book at all. She’s also been told that she did something wrong by not being able to make a very quick decision about which book to choose, and was punished by not getting anything. But from the parent’s point of view, she did want to get her child a book but just didn’t have the time to stand around all day waiting for her to choose something. So was anyone to blame?

What this pointed out to me was the way that challenging circumstances and parents’ lack of time may be a contributing factor in the decline in reading for pleasure amongst children today. It’s probably not new – countless research efforts by the likes of Scholastic and the National Literacy Trust have considered such factors in their approaches to literacy research. So I wasn’t surprised by some of the points made by Egmont in their latest press release about their Reading Street Consumer Insight research.

In it, they highlight how lifestyle can simply get in the way of the time parents have to encourage their children to read and affects the importance they place on reading as something that should be done just for pleasure:

“The first chapter of our new Reading Street report into children’s reading reveals that some of the key benefits of reading for pleasure in childhood are being over-looked because of a challenging set of circumstances faced by families and the way we live today.”

Is the lack of time given by parents to portraying every step of a child’s reading – from choosing a book to reading a book – as an enjoyable experience having a detrimental effect on children’s perceptions of reading?

Egmont point out the fact that the benefits of reading for pleasure as seen by parents taking part in their study are purely educational and developmental, as opposed to anything to do with the pure pleasure of reading. They make a good point of saying that this may be a mistake – are we overlooking a real benefit of reading here? Their aim now is to find out how and why reading thrives in some families and to use this to determine how to inspire children to read.

I for one am looking forward to learning more about Egmont’s research results. The publisher really stands out to me, alongside such children’s publishers as Scholastic, for the contributions they make to the literacy landscape. I love the way they provide advice on their website pages about the benefits of reading at different ages and how to make choosing books easier (as well as publishing this useful guide for parents). Perhaps more advice like this is needed, or simply more awareness amongst parents, so that scenes like the one I saw in WH Smith become a little less frequent…