Henrika Andersson: How should we promote children’s love of reading?

Photo: Lena Malm, Schilds & Söderströms

Photo: Lena Malm, Schilds & Söderströms

Henrika Andersson, author and ambassador for reading in Finland, gives her opinion on how we can and should encourage reading amongst children and youths:

I have yet to run into a child who hates books. Parents who sit down with their child for a quiet read at the end of the day are remembered with joy and warmth. For most people, reading aloud is synonymous with happiness and a feeling of solidarity. So, when does the happiness end? When do these joint moments of reading stop? In most cases this happens when the child starts to read by himself and the school “takes over”. Reading becomes homework. Words and sentences must be plotted through, essays and stories are corrected with a red pen and become marked. And at the same time the moments of joy at home disappear – reading aloud is replaced with telly.

In his thought-provoking book Som en roman – om lusten att läsa (approx. Just like a novel – about the urge to read) Daniel Pennac has described how most booklovers have discovered literature by reading, despite of something. We read books inspite of what we should and must do, we defy the world/our parents/time etc by disappearing into a book. I remember how important it was for me to find my own books, not the ones that was put before me or the ones I was supposed to read. And I especially disliked the tomes that I was supposed to give an account for in school or have a clear opinion on. Reading was and is something intimate and private, a thing between me and the sentences I mold and capture. Today, I have to steal time to be able to read, even though I should be doing something else instead.

Efforts to promote the love of reading should be increased on all fronts. In Finland, as in Sweden, we should set the bar high to create another trend in our society, making reading attractive. Instead of it being mandatory we could encourage young people to read for many different reasons; sneaking away, to be comforted, to wallow or just for the joy of it.

To read separate bits and pieces from various books just to find something appealing in the spur of the moment, is another tip. Never mind categorization of good/bad literature nor rules on how a book should be read. Talk about books and literature, act as role models and invest in festivals for children’s and young adult literature, book events for children, more library efforts and reading aloud when the lust for reading starts to drop off. The Swedish reading campaign “15 minutes a day”, which also was successfully tested in Finnish workplaces, is one of many ways to breathe life into literature.

As for reading promotion activities, I look with envy at Sweden having a full-time employed Reading Ambassador and a Reading coach. The Swedish Arts Council is a fine example that Finland is more than welcome to copy. So far, most of the reading promotion activities in Finland are on a grass root level, although we still are considered to be people of reading. But for how long?

Henrika Andersson

Author and Finnish Ambassador for reading

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