Reading opens up our minds to new experiences and unknown facts. However, with the rise in digital devices, today’s story telling has taken on a new dimension. Ahead of How technology can make reading fun, an event to explore ways of encouraging kids to read for pleasure when they are glued to their devices, we decided to interview the expert speakers. Louie Stowell writes non-fiction in-house for Usborne Publishing.
1) Some people think that Technology deters kids from reading, with young people choosing to play games and spend time on social media instead. Do you think this is the case?
I’m sure it’s true that kids spend a lot of time playing games and on social media, but I think that time can feed into a love of reading and story. A game can be a story – just one where you get to play a role. Reading a social media post is still reading. I suspect that trying to control how much time kids spend online is a bit of a losing game. Perhaps it would be better to come at it from the angle of, “How can parents and teachers provide creative opportunities online?” There’s a huge difference between dead-eyed staring at a screen, refreshing instagram for hours, and engaging online in a way that feeds your mind.
2) What online tools have you seen which effectively encourage the love of reading?
Writing for Fiction Express, I’ve seen the effect that interactive stories can have on readers. The kids reading my stories there came to the Fiction Express blog full of questions, ideas – even spinoff stories of their own. Any forum that allows children to express themselves and their opinions about books can be really helpful.
3) What can teachers do around their schools, to create an atmosphere in which children will read in breaks?
Create comfortable areas to read in, with beanbags and a range of books laid out in a tempting way. Incorporate active play into reading spaces – look at the Discover Story Centre in Stratford, and see how they use play areas in a way that inspires storytelling.
4) If a child actively hates reading, what do you think their parents and teachers should do?
Allow them to explore other ways of consuming stories. Perhaps comics will work for them? Perhaps audiobooks? I think the harder people push books as the only way to narrative, the more already-reluctant children will push back. Presenting reading as one mode of story consumption among many can make it seem less daunting, and presenting different media as part of a continuum means nothing is stigmatised, and children can find their own way to stories they love.
5) How can children be encouraged to read the classics?
It depends what you mean by the classics. Sometimes, it’s about broadening what you consider the canon to be – don’t just fall back on Dickens, Austen, Tolstoy – think about broader world literature. Also: start them on retellings rather than the originals. In some cases, the retellings are better. For example, Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Dragonslayer is the best version of Beowulf. (Sorry, Seamus Heaney – she left out all the boring bits about who’s related to who, and stuck to the monster parts, she wins.)
6) Finally, what was your favourite book to read as a child and why?
Lord of the Rings. Interestingly, Tolkien was also my first major experience of multimedia storytelling – I read the book, watched the cartoon, listened to the BBC radio play, read a comic of The Hobbit and listened to the book on tape on a loop. (This was the 80s. It was a literal tape.)