Can kids simply enjoy reading?

Bookstore owner and author Kate Gordon-Smith asks the question what could you do differently this year to encourage and nurture the joy of reading for your children, grandchildren and students?

I write fiction for children aged eight to twelve, and I love it!

I’m one of those people for whom reading has (nearly always) been a joy (biochemistry textbooks being the exception…). I’m fortunate that my two older sisters and my mother, a former primary school teacher, taught me to read before I went to school. So, I appreciate that I come to reading from a very different position to someone who doesn’t know how to read or who thinks of reading, books, online articles and application forms as frustrating, boring or downright hateful.

Since I started the Kiwi Kids’ Bookstore featuring New Zealand authors writing for children and teens, I have thought a lot about how finding the simple enjoyment in reading a book could make a big difference to a child and how much they continue to read for pleasure as an adult.

There is a great deal of research the world over by literacy experts about the benefits of our children being able to develop their reading skills. Picking up a print book means less screen time (and plenty of us would benefit from that). As a fiction reader, you can escape everyday life to go on exciting adventures, explore magical, fantastical worlds, undertake vital quests, and take down the bad guys. Or you might like books with illustrations – graphic novels are cool! You might like fascinating facts about sharks or dinosaurs or machinery. Does it matter what the content is, as long as you’re enjoying reading the book?

It seems a fairly simple conclusion to me – if you don’t enjoy reading as a child, you’re not going to continue reading as a teen or adult.

Maybe one of the best things we can do is to let kids explore virtually any kind of written material and let them enjoy reading it. We don’t always have to find them worthy books with important messages or learnings, or make them analyse a book with questions to improve comprehension. Yes, the worthy books have a place. Yes, comprehension is important too. But first, let’s just nurture the joy of reading.

I know, myself, if I’m not enjoying a book, I stop. My kindle is littered with unfinished books that need deleting and my bookshelf heaving with unfinished books ready for the local Rotary Club book sale – someone else might love them! I have discovered, as a reader, it’s okay to be ruthless. Who said we have to finish reading a book? It’s not like we’re ever going to run out of books to read, right? I even added a “didn’t finish it” category to my Goodreads reading profile.

Joy has also played an important role in my own journey of discovery as a writer. It took years to figure out that I wasn’t going to write bestselling romances – I wasn’t enjoying writing them so who would enjoy reading them? And I had a lot more story craft to learn before I could write a decent mystery. After many false starts, I eventually asked myself, what do I enjoy reading the most? And it was children’s fiction. I still read heaps of it, and it brings me joy.

Figuring out this whole joy thing continues now, four years after publishing my first middle grade fiction novel, Lily and the Unicorn King. (Oh, how frustrating to discover that I love “having written”, but I do not always enjoy the actual writing. That was a shock to me. It’s HARD work and I haven’t (yet) found the grit and passion to finish the second unicorn book, which still languishes tenuously plotted and half-written on my hard drive. Hopefully, not forever. Young readers have written, wanting to know what happens next and that’s the COOLEST!)

To find my own joy in writing again, I thought about what I enjoyed reading when I was about ten years old.

I loved dogs, mysteries, and adventures with friends. I looked at my red collie, Kenzie, lying on the end of the bed as story ideas noodled round my brain. The ideas started popping and hooray, Maddison McQueen and the Cupcake Mystery was written. I stayed focused on the joy and, thankfully, hopefully, that joy carries through to the final, edited book when I release it next month.

So, thinking of your own enjoyment of reading and of your child’s (or grandchild’s or students’) enjoyment of reading, what could you do differently this year to encourage and nurture this joy?

I love reading