As a young child I loved comics. Who doesn’t?!
Back then, at my home, reading comics was a risky business; successful completion of a comic-book was no less than a thrilling heist. My erudite father, a master’s in English literature, would permit nothing less than the classics: a Dickens or a Tolstoy. And if you argued that may be these were a tad difficult for a child of 9 or 10, he would advise reading non-fiction in Science or History; autobiographies or Geography. Comic books, he thought did not provoke serious reflections or aid in character-building; these, according to him were devoid of any foundation-laying capacity. So, every time my reading nook was uncovered, I invariably faced a stern visage, and some times a long lecture on why-not comics and why non-fiction and classics.
Thankfully, his rather obstructive presence during my comic-bingeing phase didn’t diminish my passion. It was my favorite pastime, and I kept at it, diligently adding other pulp fiction (as he would term them!) to my reading repertoire; bedtime reading is a habit that is integral to me. Much to my father’s delight, I did move to Dickens and Tolstoy. Dostoevsky and Kafka. I have acquainted myself with many of the greats that my father admired, although my intellectual capacity did prove to be a limitation in getting to know many others of his suggestion.
That was circa eighties of a bygone century. Comics were the last bastion for making readers out of budding minds, and they were gradually caving in. Reading books as a hobby was slowly but surely going out of fashion. The electronic media (with ever-flattening TVs, videos and video games), was just too much of here-and-now pastime to allow an inch of ground to books. Peter Pan, Alice, Phantom, Asterix, Marvel heroes and many more, flailed. Generations that came after mine were reading less and less. Times were rather bleak for the written word… till Ms. Rowling and her young wizard came along early this century and transformed the world. The day young Harry went to Hogwarts was a new dawn, making reading cool, luring people into becoming avid readers. Since then, new genres and series have continued to catch young adults’ fancy, braving against ever-present and addictive digital, virtual alternatives; the world of readers continues to thrive. Thank you, Ms. Rowling, Mr. Riordan, Mr. Kinney, Ms. Meyer, Ms. Cowell and other wielders of the pen (ok, keyboard!).
Well, whatever the medium, be it grandmothers, print or audio-visual, children love stories. They love wandering in distant worlds and making friends with die-hard heroes, wise wizards, beautiful (and now adventurous too!) princesses, fast stallions; they love to duel with villains, and make good win over the bad. As they slowly start making sense of the world they grow up into, the real and the imaginary together form their worldview. That’s the crucial worldview-forming, character-building role fiction plays for a young mind. It plays another role: spicing up the daily humdrum of reality to keep the world interesting (or at least bearable!). Studies suggest that reading among children reduces their anxiety level, boosts their optimism and gives them a sense of hope. Moreover, reading facilitates empathy with the surrounding, apart from enhancing creativity and imagination. There’s another practical, more visible benefit of reading: the habit of reading once formed, invariably stays. A child starts by reading fairy tales and comics, and wanders into other imaginary genres. A diligent and consistent reader learns the mechanics of a language (vocabulary and grammar), comprehends complex plots, decodes motives of various characters and their interdependence; she experiences focus and engagement; all this helps a child in academics too, across subjects.
Irrespective of the growing trend of video-based and game-based learning, studying is primarily a pursuit of the written word. Children who learn to enjoy reading (or at least become comfortable with the idea of it), eventually have a better chance of growing into a studious young adults (#goodmarks ?), who don’t perceive a written word as their enemy and don’t put their guards up at the mere sighting of a book. That itself is a rather good return-on-investment, isn’t it?!
Read, and let them read. Good habits start early ?