How to make a reader of your child

Are you worried about the effects of comic books, movies and TV on your child's development? As Book Week opens, this article offers sound advice on how to guide a child toward the satisfying entertainment that is found between hard covers

MAX BRAITHWAITE November 15 1953

How to make a reader of your child

Are you worried about the effects of comic books, movies and TV on your child's development? As Book Week opens, this article offers sound advice on how to guide a child toward the satisfying entertainment that is found between hard covers

MAX BRAITHWAITE November 15 1953

How to make a reader of your child

Are you worried about the effects of comic books, movies and TV on your child's development? As Book Week opens, this article offers sound advice on how to guide a child toward the satisfying entertainment that is found between hard covers


ONE DAY last year a neatly-dressed, intelligent-looking seventeen-yearold girl walked up to the desk of a Toronto library and said, “I saw a wonderful story on television last night. It was called Hamlet. Has the man who wrote it written any more books?”

Most teen-agers have, without doubt, heard of Shakespeare and know his principal plays. But this incident did happen and it serves to point up a question that more and more educators and parents are asking themselves: “How can we encourage our children to read more good books?”

Two years ago a group of Ontario parents, teachers, librarians and publishers organized the Committee on Children’s Recreational Reading fo study this problem. They sent questionnaires to most of the elementary schools in the province; they received replies from more than a thousand teachers and they gathered some startling information.

The survey showed that more than sixty percent of our public-school pupils spend less than three hours a week reading at home and half of that reading is in comic books. It showed that many school libraries are inadequate; that some teachers think that reading anything but texts is a waste of time (one commented, “I’m interested in teaching, not reading”). More significantly, the survey revealed that many parents are not doing what they should to make readers of their children.

Yet there’s no doubt that the value and importance of good reading— both for adults and children—is generally accepted. In his new book, Children Learn to Read, David H. Russell, formerly of the University of Saskatchewan, states: “The existence of democracy is dependent upon the free communication of ideas and a well-informed citizenry.” He goes on to comment that a large amount of evidence accumulated throughout the U. S. indicates the conclusion that “reading abilities and tastes are on too low a level for the preservation and improvement of democracy.”

2 - 5 YEARS


5 - 8 YEARS

8 -10 YEARS

Many educators are concerned about what they call the “cartel of the mind”: the tendency of large masses of people to think alike on any given subject. A child watching television or listening to the radio is entirely passive; he makes no effort to get his information, doesn’t even have to select a book or turn a page. “What happens,” said Dr. B. C. Diltz, of the Ontario College of Education, recently, “is that he swallows what he gets. He’ll grow up to be a dupe if we don’t watch out.”

Perhaps worst of all, in terms of the child’s intellectual growth, he is being cheated if, through lack of guidance, he passes up the best writing of the greatest minds of all time for the often second-rate efforts of his own generation.

But, if a child seems hopelessly entranced by his comic book, cowboy and TV heroes, how are you going to get him to read good, lasting literature? Must you drive him to it?

Fortunately, all the evidence points to the fact that good books can hold their own—if parents make sure they get a fair chance. The Ontario survey led to this conclusion: “All reports indicate that wherever they are available and where there is a librarian who can use them, the circulation of children’s books is increasing regularly.” Elizabeth Homer Morton, executive secretary of the Canadian Library Association, stated recently that, “for the most part children will choose a well-illustrated and well-written book rather than a comic book.”

Reports from libraries all over the country show that this is true. In Vancouver, for instance, children took out 728,237 books last year—almost four times as many as they took out in 1947. Toronto has doubled its circulation of children’s books (from one million to two million) since 1935. In

Halifax, where a children’s library was opened for the first time last year children borrowed 60,290 books. This encouraging progress has taken place in spite of the fact that last year about one hundred and twenty million copies of four hundred and seventy-one different comic books were bought by Canadian children.

To many parents comic books are the main bogey. Educationists aren’t so concerned.

In the first place, comic books don’t seem to lie as harmful as was once feared. In 1950, after an exhaustive examination of all the available studies of the effect of comic books the Toronto Board of Education reported: “No significant influence on intelligence, social or personal adjustment or educational achievement from reading comic books.” The worst indictment of the comic book is that it robs time that might have l>een spent reading a satisfying book.

On the other hand, a comic-book reader is at least a reader. He is interested in stories. It isn’t difficult for thoughtful parents to show him that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a better story than Superman; that The Wind in the Willows is more fun than Donald Duck. One parent got her non-reading twelve-year-old child into Treasure Island by first getting him to look at the pictures in the Classics Illustrated comic book.

The best test of a good book — whether for children or adults—is how many like to read it and reread it, how it stands the test of time. Thousands of books that were once considered proper for children have been forgotten while hundreds never written for children at all, books like Pilgrim’s Progress, Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, have been taken over by junior readers. Louisa May Alcott wrote a book called Little Men but, unlike her great story Little Women, it has been pretty well ignored Educators agree that children need to be guided firmly into good reading. Rut shoving a book into a child’s hand and saying, “Read this, it’s good for you” won’t work. One of the things that will work is surrounding him with good books. Build him a bookcase in his own room and take him to the library yourself so that he will feel at home there. Then see to it that he has books of his own, suitable for his age.

It is impossible to lay down hardand-fast rules about what kind of hooks children will enjoy at any given age. Different children develop at different speeds. David LI. Russell, author of Children Learn To Read, points out that reading abilities vary as much as two or three grades in primary classes and five or six grades in higher classes. An inexperienced librarian once almost brought circulation of children’s books to a halt in her town by putting little cards above them with “Grade III,” “Grade V” and so on printed on them.

On the other hand there are certain broad groupings that can be used as guides. A survey of children’s reading preferences published in the Journal of Educational Psychology and the current lists of the Canadian Library Association show that pre-school and kindergarten children like stories about animals such as Angus and the Ducks and The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack, and Beatrix Potter’s wonderful Tale of Peter Rabbit; stories about small children such as Helen Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo and Claire Huchet Bishop’s Five Chinese Brothers; stories about dolls such as Gruelle’s Raggedy Anne. They prefer their books brightly illustrated with large clear pictures. Many of these can be bought cheaply in the Little Golden series, the Wonder Books series and the Big Treasure Books series.

Children in Grades I, II, and III prefer books such as Robert McCloskey’s Make Way For Ducklings, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Wanda Gag’s Snippy and Snappy, Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, and The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting.

Grades IV, V and VI show a preference for books like Eric Knight’s Lassie Come Home, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Eleanor Estes’ Moffat books, and The Arabian Nights by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

Grade VII, VIII and IX children go for the adventure books such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Carola Oman’s Robin Hood, John Masefield’s Jim Davis. Girls at this age particularly like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women. Both sexes read Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

These favorites overlap, of course, from age group to age group. Children of all ages read Alice in Wonderland, for instance. A Toronto librarian tells how an eighteen-year-old girl came to Boys and Girls House of the Toronto Public Library to get the latest book by Arthur Ransome (famous for his Swallows and Amazons adventure stories for the eleven to fourteen group) because she didn’t want to miss one. One mother reports that her eight-yearold likes Hemingway and read his The Old Man and the Sea with apparent enjoyment.

Children from nine to twelve, librarians find, are the most avid readers of all. They will take three or four books out and be back in a week for more. They have more leisure at that age than they will ever have again, and perhaps a greater curiosity. Often at this age children get into series of books, such as the Bohbsey Twins or the Elsie Dinsmore books. Even when the individual books in a series—there are forty-five Bobbsey Twins titles—are interesting and useful, many librarians feel that the child is likely to become bored with the same characters and stop reading altogether.

Librarians also warn parents not to be afraid of giving their children the books generally called “the classics.” Helen Armstrong, the library representative on the Committee on Children’s Recreational Reading for Ontario, describes how she once started a nonreading twelve-year-old off with a children’s version of Homer’s Odyssey. The boy was soon back looking for more of the same. “It’s true, isn’t it?” he asked. “You can tell it’s true just by reading it.”

Most children seem to prefer straight fiction. The Toronto Public Library reported last year that out of every one hundred books loaned to children, thirty-two were fiction, twenty were picture books, nine were traditional literature (folklore, fairy tales, myths, hero stories), nine were biography and history, eight were books of travel and geography, five were books of science, four were hobby books and four were books on art, music, plays or poetry.

No Time To Read

There’s general agreement among educators that fiction is good for children. They often quote Robert Louis Stevenson’s opinion: “The most influential books and the truest in their influence are works of fiction . . . They repeat, they clarify the lessons of life; they disengage us from ourselves; they constrain us to the acquaintance of others.”

Often boys or girls who never read can be introduced to books through their hobbies. A boy who is very keen about hockey, for instance, will be sure to like Scott Young’s Scrubs on Skates and Boy on Defense which combine good stories with expert material on hockey. A girl who is attracted by nursing will like Elliott Merrick’s Northern Nurse. From these books they will usually go to others of the same type and then gradually broaden their reading.

A number of teachers answering the Ontario questionnaire repeated this complaint: “Children are kept so busy taking tap dancing, piano, figure skating, handicrafts, swimming and every other kind of lesson that they don’t have time to read.” Some parents seem to think that a child who is reading or just sitting thinking about what he has read is wasting time. They feel that he should be developing some skill. Educators believe that children should have a certain amount of unorganized time in which to read or think or dream, to give them a chance to develop as individuals.

Librarians have noted a distinct swing toward realism in children’s reading preferences. Even very young readers seem to prefer tales about children with whom they can identify themselves—as opposed to the fairy tale type of story. They like to read stories about real children playing baseball, riding, flying aircraft, sailing, and camping.

Since the last war the number of good children’s books available has greatly increased. Claude E. Lewis, of the Copp Clark publishing company, says, "More authors know how to write for children these days without writing down to them.” The market for hardcover juveniles has never been so brisk and the writers are making money. •Jack Hambleton, author of Abitibi Adventure and Young Bush Pilot, explained recently: “You don’t have to worry about your book going stale because each year there’s a whole new group of readers.”

Up to the present, there isn’t a native Canadian book club for children, but the Junior Literary Guild, with an editorial board which includes Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, has an order office in Toronto. The guild selects each month what it considers the best books for boys and girls in three age groups. The Canadian Library Association, of Ottawa, regularly publishes lists of good books for children in different age groups.

Most parents, however, can’t afford to buy all the books their children will need; the big majority will come from the public libraries. According to the Canadian Library Association, there are eight hundred public libraries in Canada with a total of about seven million books. Four hundred are "free libraries,” supported wholly by taxes and government grants—they tend to be concentrated in the larger centres. The other four hundred are “association libraries” in more remote areas supported by organizations like the Wheat Board, the Hudson’s Bay Company, universities, women’s club groups. Supplementing these are bookmobiles—panel trucks fitted out as miniature libraries, which reach into some isolated sections. And any child, no matter how isolated, can get library books by mail from the nearest public library.

The best of our libraries campaign for children’s attention with the zeal of politicians going after votes. They advertise Book Week—this year it’s from Nov. 15 to Nov. 27—with posters, pamphlets and talks on the radio. They set up small branch libraries in the schools, bring whole school classes down to the library and give them pep talks on books. Often they send bookmobiles to the outer suburbs.

In northern Saskatchewan thirteen communities with a total population of nearly thirty thousand have organized the North Central Saskatchewan Regional Library, with the city of Prince Albert as its centre. Last year they distributed 62,341 books. In Domremy (pop: 247) four hundred books were put into the co-op store and a clerk who speaks both English and French took over the librarian’s job.

This year a bookmobile toured this northern area to supply out-of-the-way regions and to advertise the scheme. When the traveling library set up in business at the Melfort fair children immediately began to crowd around. One eleven-year-old selected Dan McCowan’s Animals of the Canadian Rockies and parked on the step until he’d read it through.

Much of the success of any library depends on the children’s librarian.The modern librarian is university trained for the job, knows her books and her customers and watches the reading development of a child as carefully as a pediatrician would watch his physical growth. She is usually around when a child is looking for a new book. She organizes story hours, dramatic groups and puppet shows. She is, in fact, one of the best friends a child can have.